Mzee Masila Muange has been a peasant farmer all his life.
Every season, the resident of Mutomo in Kitui County practices mixed crop farming.
But green grams which he plants on his 10 acre farm have been his highest income earner, fetching between Sh50 and Sh70 per kilo.
Over the years Mr Muange has had to deal with marketing challenges due to lack of market access.
Unscrupulous middlemen have been lying to farmers like Mr Muange that merchants arrive in Mombasa from India in February and stay in the country for only three weeks.
Green grams farmers like Mr Muange must therefore sell their crop within those three weeks at a poor price offered by brokers or risk “missing out” and incurring losses if they keep the produce.
“We’re always at the mercy of middlemen. They dictate the prices because farmers are made to believe that after the India ship leaves, our produce will rot in stores” Mr Muange says.
However, this exploitive trend will soon be a thing of the past after Kenya Red Cross offered to facilitate the export of all green grams produced in Kitui.
Mr Muange now hopes to directly sell his produce at better prices to export market in a joint partnership with the county government that is expected to fetch Sh4 billion for local farmers.
Before the rains started, the humanitarian agency donated 200 tonnes of certified green gram seeds worth Sh50 million for distribution to 200,000 households in the county.
Kenya Red Cross secretary general Abbass Gullet says the agency has set aside Sh500 million to buy the produce – commonly known as ndengu in Kiswahili – from local farmers to shield them from exploitation by middlemen.
LINKAGES AND BETTER PAYING INTERNATIONAL MARKETS
Dr Gulet said the demand for Kenyan green grams in Asian countries, including India, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan ,among others, was inexhaustible and that farmers should strive to produce more.
Speaking in Kitui South during a seed distribution ceremony, he said ndengu should be the cash crop for the Kamba community just like coffee and tea is to Central Kenya, or sugar to Western Kenya.
“We will walk with Kitui people in this journey of actualising the ndengu revolution and we are willing to pump more money in providing linkages with better paying international markets,” the Kenya Red Cross boss said.
Dr Gulet praised the partnership, saying it was real and achievable because the county was endowed with plenty of arable land with very good soils and terrain.
“We do not keep idle money in our coffers but when Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu came to our office with this noble proposal on making ndengu a cash crop for Kitui people, we had no option but to find resources to partner with her,” Dr Gullet said
In the partnership, the Kenya Red Cross and the county governments have pulled together 400 tonnes of seeds worth Sh108 million, including transport logistics.
Governor Ngilu said each of the 200,000 households got 2kg packet of free seeds, as part of the capacity building investment, hopes to harvest at least 200 kilos in the next four months.
“If each kilo of seeds yields a bare minimum of 100 kilo produce, this will give our county a total of 40,000 metric tonnes of green grams (40 million kilos),” said Ms Ngilu, adding if the harvest was sold at a conservative price of Sh100 per kilo it will earn the county an estimated Sh4 billion in one season.
ACCESS AGRICULTURE EXTENSION SERVICES
The governor urged the county assembly to enact strict legislation to protect farmers from brokers who exploit them with poor prices, saying her administration had secured good overseas market for the anticipated harvest.
This seed subsidy, she said is in addition to what the farmers themselves will buy from shops and that the initiative will eradicate perennial hunger in the county as well as improve livelihoods of residents and reduce poverty.
Mrs Ngilu said her government mooted the ndengu revolution because Kitui County has the best soils for growing the crop which does not require a lot of rainfall.
She thanked Kenya Red Cross and urged other partners and donors to support the ndengu revolution by giving farmers more seeds, farm equipment, technology transfer on water harvesting and training of farmers on post harvest management.
She said whereas the seeds would have cost a farmer Sh500, the county government will pay Sh250 for each farmer while Red Cross will top up the balance of the other Sh250.
In addition to the seed support, Ms Ngilu said the county government will assist farmers to access agricultural extension services and technical advice from agricultural experts.