Changing to chia has proved a good and profitable decision – and coupled with business planning training as well as the formation of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) it has been life changing for some.
For many years farmer Celestine Amanai grew maize and cassava on her farm. Even with bumper harvest and well-laden crops, her income always fell short. Profits were never enough to feed and care for her family, and she had to moonlight as a seasonal farm hand just to make ends meet.
But two years ago, she began switching to growing chia; a crop more tolerant of harsh weather and with a steady market – for food and to sell.
At first, the switch was not easy for her. “I had never heard about the crop and I was warned by other farmers about the failures that come with trying a new crop”, she remembers.
“But I decided to risk, and I can now say it was a wise decision. My family enjoy the chia seeds because I have told them about the nutritive value and I have a steady income”, she said in an interview.
Celestine lives in Busia County in Kenya where the prices of maize and cassava – crops traditionally grown there – fluctuate a lot on the domestic market, leaving farmers with great insecurity and at the mercy of different middle dealers.
The answer for the farmers was to branch out into another crop – chia.
In 2020, under the Danida Market Development Partnerships (DMDP) supported AgriTech Solutions project, DCA and partner organization Momentum Trust, invested in value chains that would cut dubious middlemen out and connect the farmers directly to the bigger retailers.
They trained local farmers on chia cultivation techniques to make sure that the crops grow in the right conditions. Other trainings include governance and leadership of the farming groups established; enterprise development; business planning; agronomy and good agricultural practices; post-harvest management; marketing; record keeping, and; financial literacy, including Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA).
Chia grows well in the area and the farmers have a contract with Momentum Agribusiness and Development Company Limited (MADCO), which ensures a fixed and fair price, so they know the price and the amount they can sell.
The chia is exported to European markets like Denmark. Encouraged by project staff, Celestine joined in, hoping that the new crop would help boost her family’s income and secure better living conditions.
After attending the farmer field training sessions organized by the project, she applied the techniques that she learned and saw immediate results after planting chia on a quarter acre land.
“I harvested and sold the seeds to Momentum Agribusiness and Development Company (MADCO). The price was what we had earlier set out in the contract and the money came in quick,” she said.
Her land now yields produce that brings greater prosperity and opportunity to her family.
“Chia is an excellent crop. The income has helped us build a permanent and beautiful house,” said Celestine.
Celestine is one of the more than 1,783 smallholder farmers who have benefited from the DMDP-supported AgriTech Solutions project to increase agricultural production and access to financing for smallholder farmers in Kenya facing the effects of climate change.
She is also a member of a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) where group members get together to collectively save money, simultaneously providing each other with access to small loans. She used her first loan from the group to buy a cow.
“The group has really helped us. I took a KES 12,000 loan (about 100 USD), and sold one pig to accumulate money enough to buy a cow. The cow is almost giving birth. I will be able to sell milk and get more income,” she said with a smile.
Each of these groups has a membership of between 20-30 members. The primary purpose of the VSLAs is to provide simple loan and savings services to underserved members of society who do not have access to formal financial services.
After a certain period of simultaneous individual savings, the accumulated funds and the loan profits are distributed back to members based on their contribution.
Under the project, more than 91 farmer groups have been formed; 22 of which have VSLA activities. The VSLA groups have collectively saved more than KES 2.8 million (about 237,000 USD).
Celestine is not the only one who has benefited from the loan service. Most of the farmers say that they have purchased farm input using the funds from VSLAs, as well as using it to pay school fees for their children. In the future, the farmers hope to implement a collective project that will benefit their community.