Ngengi Self Help Group-Strengthening the livelihoods of marginal farmers through aggregation

Guys in hut

Ngengi shopping centre is a small shopping centre with less than five buildings located just a few kilometers from Matuu Town, Machakos County. This is where the collection centre for Ngengi Self Help Group stands proudly. ”Our collection center is the one that spurred the development of this shopping center, Once we finished building it,  the shops and the butchery followed.” Titus Kaluli the chairman of Ngengi Self Help Group announces proudly pointing at the few scattered shops.

“We sold all our produce during the last season.” Titus announces with a wide smile. He explains that during the last season, the group sold 400 bags of green grams. The journey of this small but successful farmer group started in 2012. “We were with twelve back then. We came together to benefit from demand for seeds.  We heard that Simlaw Seeds Limited, a company which sells seeds to farmers for planting was contracting farmers to multiply seeds on her behalf.” Once the group was registered, the members approached the company and they were soon contracted. However, the group still faced a myriad of problems that stunted its growth.

"The SNV Drylands Development (DryDev) project trained us on business management and that changed how we managed everything.” Titus tells smiling. One of the challenges the group faced was the post-harvest handling and storage of produce. “We were often forced to request the church to give us one of the rooms to store the produce before the buyers came to collect.” He smiles while pointing out the church opposite the shopping centre.Through financial management training, the farmers were also taught how to manage their income, start a savings and loans groups and how to manage loans provided to members. “We were also introduced to other financial institutions where we can borrow money for our farming activities and other needs.”  Titus adds.Apart from the seed market provided by Simlaw Seeds, the farmers did not think of exploiting other markets for their produce. Though the area is generally characterised by erratic rainfall, indigenous poultry and pulses such as green grams, pigeon peas and cowpeas still give a reasonable yield. “Through the business plan training and facilitation, provided by the DryDev project, we realised the need to start selling indigenous chicken, green grams and other pulses collectively.” Titus says. In 2016, Ngengi Self Help Group’s membership had grown to 46 and only needed a small nudge to move forward.

Ngengi Self Help Group-Strengthening the livelihoods of marginal farmers through aggregation

Ngengi Self Help Group-Strengthening the livelihoods of marginal farmers through aggregation

They were also linked by SNV to buyers such as Spice World for the green grams and EastMeat Supplies for the indigenous poultry. “As soon as we were introduced to the markets, we aggregated our produce and started selling immediately. We recently sold over 400 chicken to EastMeat Supplies, a major meat supplier to most Kenyan supermarkets.” Festus the group’s secretary chips in smiling.

Through the DryDev project, they have also been able to attend various workshops and seminars that have enabled them to maintain consistent quality and improve production. Some of the members of the group have been trained to train other farmers and farmer groups. “I am often invited to train other groups on financial literacy.” Festus states proudly flipping open a book with notes he took during the last workshop organised by SNV for financial literacy trainer of trainers.

Representatives from various farmer organisations under the DryDev project have also been taken for several exposure visits to learn about best aggregation practices to strengthen the livelihoods of marginal farmers in dry areas. “The exposure visit to Ng’arua inspired us to open a collection centre after seeing what other farmers in a drought prone region have achieved. Now we are planning to build a warehouse.” Festus says, as his voice rises with confidence.

The problem of post-harvest storage has now been solved by the collection centre. The group also owns a piece of land next to the premises on which they plan to construct a warehouse. “Last harvest, we sold produce worth 2.46M to Simlaw Seeds Limited.” Titus says gladly. He explains that during the harvest season, they also bought seeds from non members and helped them with collective selling. “We were exploited by brokers for a long time.” He adds.

Now, the farmers in the group are reaping many benefits from their farming enterprise. They are able to meet their needs like paying school fees for their children and financing their farming activities. “Farmers in our group do not depend on emergency aid even though this is a dry area” Festus says as Titus nods his head in agreement.

“We need more farmers because we can barely satisfy the market. Last season, one of the buyers wanted more green grams but we had already sold all the produce.” He explains.

Festus looks around the empty collection centre with a smile on his face. His eyes finally rest on the weighing scale as if remembering the last harvest when it was lastly in use. “We are eagerly waiting for the rains. Most farmers in the region depend on rain fed agriculture.”  He says.

“Through the DryDev project, we have also been trained on good agricultural practices like using Zai pits and constructing farm ponds.”  Festus explains. “We also use the projector we received through the DryDev project for training on good agricultural practices, business management, financial management and this has increased our knowledge.”  Festus says.

Ngengi Self Help Group’s collection centre

Ngengi Self Help Group’s collection centre

Ngengi Self Help Group has spurred a farmer led movement in the area by demonstrating what can be achieved by small scale farmers through aggregation. “Sound financial management and market linkages have propelled our group towards realising sustainable livelihoods” Titus concludes.