Frustrations can push us to think deep as we seek to invent solutions.
This was the case with 29-year-old Jeff Mundia, an architect who was until recently working as a development manager in South Africa.
One day, he set out to Githurai market with a lorry load of cabbages after he had invested three months of his time and resources growing them. He was sure to return home a loaded man.
But unknown to him, the turn of events on reaching the market would brutally disappoint him, making him rethink his future in farming and agribusiness.
“At the market, I was not allowed to offload the cabbages since there were guys who had positioned themselves for the job. They did the job and charged me Sh3,000. I was not allowed sell the cabbages on my own either and after selling on my behalf they charged me Sh5,000,” Mr Mundia recalled.
By the time he was returning home, the cash he had was far less than the expenses he had incurred growing the cabbages. Simply put, he had spent three months doing nothing, but cultivating vegetables for middlemen.
“I went home with Sh13,000 whereas it had cost me Sh16,000 to grow the cabbages, Sh10,000 for transport to the market plus other expenses here and there,” he said.
But going back home, he was certain about one thing, that consumers at local vegetable stalls would buy his cabbages at a price about three or four times what he had sold them.
That someone somewhere, who was just sitting as he toiled hard, would make a killing from his sweat.
He was a bitter man and he wasn’t going to let other people eat from his sweat.
Coupled with other similar previous experiences, the day’s events provided the energy that fired his ambition to create a market that would end constant frustrations among farmers marketing their produce.
“Knowing that many other farmers go through the same experience motivated me. I knew there was a big gap that needed to be filled from a business perspective, a major problem that needed solving,” he said.
In less than a month’s time, together with a group of farmers who have experienced similar frustrations, Mr Mundia will be opening a farmers’ market at Runda along Kiambu road, which among other things seeks to eliminate the long value chains that make farm produce in the country costly while keeping the Kenyan farmer earning peanuts.
The Nairobi Farmers’ Market is currently in the final stages of construction and once complete, farmers will be able to have their produce sold there without involvement of middlemen and with an assured ready market and guaranteed prices.
The main idea is creating a centre that shortens the value chain between the farmer and the consumer, in the end reducing cost of goods for the consumer while snuffing out avenues for brokers to eat from where they have not sowed.
“We want to put an end to farmers pocketing just a fraction of what the consumer pays and create a win-win situation for all, more prices for farmers, low costs for consumers, more sale volumes and a guaranteed market,” Mr Mundia said.
The market will further offer clients an assurance on safety of products sold there, by ensuring observance of quality standards both at production and during handling until they get to the market.
This, Mr Mundia says, will be done through an agronomy department that will check on products’ safety before they are put on sale.
“The team of agronomists will do random checks regularly to evaluate farmers’ practices in order to assure on safety of the products sold here. We want to make sure that everything sold here is certified and appropriate according to the local standards,” he said, adding that one of the founders of the market is an agronomist.
Such checks will include the source of water for farmers and farming methods such as the type of fertiliser used, where and when a particular produce was grown.
The move, he said, was bolstered by the fact that Kenyans are now more concerned about safety of food on their tables than before, something that local open-air markets are yet to assure.
To sell in the market, a selection of farmers who pass an evaluation test will sign contracts, promising to keep low prices for products, while at the same time observing quality standards on food production and handling.
The contracted farmers — who will be stall owners at the market — will then deal directly with farmers at the farm level and agree on quantity, prices and time of supplying produce.
“We expect the people running stalls here to contract and schedule farmers in a planned manner. So what happens is that the trader (stall owner) agrees with a farmer on what to plant or rear and the expected quantity and time of supply,” he said.
Even though not an open-air market, farmers can get their produce to the market by liaising with the contracted farmers, and passing the basic test of good farming and handling practices.
But it is the planned fashion of operation, where farmers produce knowing where, when and the prices at which they will sell their produce months in advance that sets The Nairobi Farmers’ Market at the top of any other market.
Among the novel services The Nairobi Farmers’ Market will be offering is home deliveries, a factor its founders argue will help reduce human congestion in the market, as well as offer efficient and convenient services.
Through this service, Mr Mundia says they are certain with time they will be able to supply products to residents of Nairobi, especially through bodaboda operators who mostly rely on few unpredictable customers and logistics firms.
They have also set up a separate logistics firm, run by experts in the sector, to ensure the service is part and parcel of the market features.
“Even now, because there is going to be a need in Nairobi caused by the coronavirus lockdown, we expect to start doing home deliveries as soon as we open, even within a lockdown environment,” he said.
The market will host about 50 stalls that will be different sizes in order to accommodate various farm produce.
Each of the 50 stall owners is expected to network with between 50 and 100 local farmers so as to get their produce to the market.
The market has the capacity to hold between 500 and 1000 buyers at any given moment.
Wide walkways between stalls with flowers planted strategically on the sides, benches along the walkways for buyers to sit on, gardens with soothing grass for families to relax outside and several free spaces within the market are set to enrich customer experience. This is besides an open-plan design for fresh produce stalls.
“Who said markets have to be muddy, noisy and chaotic?” Mr Mundia poses. The market will also offer parking for about 200 cars and a restaurant where buyers can sit and have a bite.