Kenya Successes: Subsistence to Substance to Business Success for Small Banana Farmers & Traders

in Kenya, Success Stories

Many of Kenya’s central and eastern rural poor have a few banana trees in their yards. But despite Kenya’s large overall banana crop, farmers are virtually unconnected to urban wholesalers, retailers, and consumers in cities like Nairobi, Kisumu or Mombasa.*  These large markets cannot meet banana demand though they are no more than 100 kilometers from tens of tons of the familiar fruit mainly because small, regional produce traders cannot efficiently link the sources with the demand due to widely-dispersed farms, inconsistent harvests, and highly fluctuating, seasonal prices.

TechnoServe offers relatively simple solutions for people at each level of what has been a complex, mostly informal “banana

chain.”  Three success stories are presented below as examples of how this organization has improved banana farmers’ lives. First, TechnoServe organizes typically 30 to 50 farmers into cooperative-type producer business groups which in turn become registered businesses. Farmers then know when to deliver to the groups’ central locations so that high quality bananas in bulk are available on fixed days, enabling consistent volume pricing and efficient buyer pick up. TechnoServe also links farmers and small traders with large wholesalers or retailers in urban markets.  TechnoServe’s staff trains farmers on best technical practices in all aspects of growing bananas such as plant pruning and water harvesting; teaches business knowledge (e.g., record keeping, market demand, and negotiation techniques) to improve farm and group operations and management; and frequently monitors on-farm and in-center progress. TechnoServe also helps small traders to improve their business skills and practices, e.g., understanding the benefits of sharing trucks to save time and money. TechnoServe has partnered with organizations like Kirkhouse Trust in U.K. and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to offer materials and other expertise such as: more drought-resistant seedling species; fertilizer for degraded soil; and irrigation equipment and methods.

As of mid-2008, 145 producer business groups had trained 7,000 Kenyan banana farmers and established two fully operational market service centers. Julius Murungi, Manager of Ntharene Market Service Center enthusiastically states, “TechnoServe has helped us prove the skeptics wrong.  Small-scale farmers can be efficient, reliable suppliers of quality bananas and other produce to cities!”

TECHNOSERVE SERVICES PROVIDED

–        Farmer organization and support

–        Managerial and employee training

–        Technical advice

–        Market linkages

IMPACT

–        Per farmer revenue has typically grown by 80% as a result of improved farming and business practices

–        Traders have a continuous, high quality source of bananas as well as connections to regional and urban markets

–    Farmers and traders’ families and communities have greater access to education, healthcare, and financing, among other improved support

*This story and successes below are based on a 2007 TechnoServe Kenya report on the successful banana value-chain.

Example #1 Kamahuha Cooperative Producer Business Group

Kamahuha Coop was organized as a producer business group in 2003 by TechnoServe and Africa Harvest. Kamahuha’s members initially created a facility for central training, meeting, and bi-weekly, fee-based (about US$0.02 per pound) bulking, sorting, and quality-controlling bananas.  Over time, these farmers also started bulking and selling other fruits and milk for buyers to truck to Nairobi and other cities, earning the cooperative approximately 60% more revenues per month.  A member household’s average income has typically grown from US$150 to over US$735 annually!

In 2006, TechnoServe helped Kamahuha–due to its excellent progress–become Kenya’s first market service center to support banana growers in the Murang’a and Maragua areas. Construction was facilitated by the Rockefeller Foundation; land was donated by local authorities; and fencing and the center’s daily operations were funded by farmers.  A second market service center launched officially in the Ntharene area of Meru, Kenya in mid-2007 where over five tons of bananas were weighed, recorded and stored for its first bi-weekly auction. Both market service centers provide their region with credit services, farm inputs such as fertilizer and seedlings, additional market opportunities, and ways to develop other products (e.g., banana flour, crisps and cake) to expand sales.

Example #2:  Josephine Magiri

Mrs. Magiri, 52, a single mother of two, used to struggle to pay school fees and support her family. As a member of Miruriiri Banana Growers producer business group she was introduced to the TechnoServe Tissue Culture Banana Project in Kenya. Josephine used to earn US$875 annually from seasonal coffee, maize, beans and potatoes and occasional knitting.  As a member of Miruriiri, she received US$1,925 per year with the additional focus on selling bananas!

TechnoServe and Miruriiri Banana Growers provided Josephine with training, market development, new banana plantlets, access to credit, and many other support services. Through a combination of her income and loans for which she qualified, both children graduated from high school.  Her daughter attended Utali College, Kenya’s premier hospitality school.  Her family also enjoyed a bicycle, television and radio.  As important, thanks to her significantly increased revenues, Josephine continued to reinvest in her business, including buying manure to improve her banana crop and hiring casual laborers at harvest to reach markets faster.  She is proud to be independent as a woman, saying “I get a regular income every week, I don’t have to depend on a husband and I can feed my children.”

Example #3: Leonard Muriungi

Mr. Muriungi was a 47 year old farmer in Yururu, Kenya who was unable to attend high school. He struggled to pay his four children’s school fees with the little income he made as a mason and growing seasonal coffee and maize on his one-acre farm.  Leonard is now one of the TechnoServe-Africa Harvest Tissue Culture Banana Project’s biggest successes with his bananas weighing over 200 pounds per bunch. He was earning approximately US$440 per month, saying “Coffee doesn’t even compare to bananas.” So he allocated half of his farm to banana cultivation!

Because of his training and other support from the TechnoServe-established Yururu Producer Business Group, Leonard was selling his bananas to better markets at double the price he used to receive.  Banana sales paid for his household expenses and children’s school fees. Indeed, his son graduated from high school then attended Meru Technical College. Leonard was also able to build a furrow irrigation system, buy feed for his two cows, and improve his house.  Leonard dreams of extending his farm, connecting to electricity, and opening a small grocery shop on the Yururu’s main road.

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