The Vision: Poverty alleviation to wealth creation Within 5 years 40,000 farmers will be out of poverty by growing and trading food crops selected and marketed by Farmers Own. Expansion into fruit and other crops plus processing of produce will bring further major income benefits to poor rural communities. Farmers will build their own businesses with help in organisation, management and marketing see

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Busy Week but Despite Everything We Are Still Selling Seed

A lot of things have happened this week, I will try to cover them all

The word limited has been removed from the Farmers Own registration here in Kenya so that it is registered as a company limited by guarantee (ie a charity) and not as at present registered as a company limited by shares. We can now work with the Ministry and with the donors who have to know that FO is a charity according to its registered status here in Kenya.

ICCO is the Interchurch Organisation for Development Co-operation their mission is to work towards a world where poverty and injustice are no longer present. ( We are pleased to hear that ICCO will give some funding next year to assist our project, ICCO particularly like the fact that we have large numbers of farmers in our scheme.

The political situation here in Kenya is a bit difficult at the moment. There has been fighting in Kisumu and Kakamega and some deaths as a result of the opposing factions in the upcoming referendum on the new Kenyan constitution. The factions are either orange (against) or banana (for) and division on tribal and ethnic lines has occured. The worst fighting is in Western Province which is orange. We will not have FO staff in the area now until after the referendum (except Roman who is looking after the Kakamega office)). The referendum is on 21 Nov.
Despite this we are still selling sunflower seed to the three farmers groups that we are working with in Western Province. seed is still selling as rains are a bit late and erratic, seeds planted so far will be ready for harvest in January
Update on sunflower seed sales, seed sales so far (kg)
Abdi's group 95
Willis Wachilonga's group 100
Paul Mlulu's group 185

Mildred (our marketing officer who is in UK just now) will be going to meet ICCO in Netherlands along with Jim our CEO and Stephen our Company Secretary at a meeting on 12 December

We have an invitation to a workshop in Ethiopia at the end of January

We have an important meeting with Rockefeller next week to answer their questions, the questions are

* Outline of Farmers Own
* Organisation of FAAs
* Size of Markets
* Financial Planning for the FAAs
* Monitoring and Evaluation Plans
* ICCO Funding
* TSBF Discussions

We now have a report and power point presentation to address these points and I am meeting Dr Oluoch, Chairman of the Poverty Eradication Commission to discuss these as he has to present them to Dr Adesina of Rockefeller on Tuesday. I cannot present as I have to go back to the UK because my mother is seriously ill in hospital.

I will keep the blog going from UK for the next period

Monday, November 07, 2005

Meeting with TSBF on 8 November

Meeting with Tropical Soil BiologyFertility Institute on 8 Nov

Persons Involved
Dr Jonas Chianu, 7224755, (TSBF)
Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, 7224755, (TSBF)
Dr Tony Margetts (FO)

They can offer the following
* germ seed of a variety that they would like farmers to use (so called promiscuous variety)
* agronomy, studies of varieties, planting spacing, mixing with other crops and crop rotation
* processing at 3 levels, community level processing leading to local business, includes processing to make milk
* soil science such as particular soils and phosphate studies

We have the following that they need to meet their obligations
* organised farmers groups (FAAs & SHGs)
* ability to provide education and training to these groups
* provision of services to the farmers groups to facilitate setting up local businesses
* trading agreements based on both contracts and trust which have been shown to work
* arrangements to distribute seeds and collect product which have been shown to work
* provision of transport in our areas
* negotiating with the buyers eg BIDCO

Actions for Farmers Own
* Laban to meet Bernard in Western and to arrange to meet the farmers together to help to identify in more detail ways of working together on common soya based projects
* Laban to discuss common agricultural matters with TSBF to identify in more detail ways of working together
* FO to estimate if possible how much soya seed our farmers groups have available for planting next season (TSBF are trying to estimate this for all Kenya as there is a big shortfall in 2006)

Other things to consider
It seems that soya is high on the agenda of the Min of Ag and MOPND just now
Education and training is one of our strengths, maybe we should have this more prominently in our future plans
Soya needs phosphate, how do we do this
We should look at the NGO Malnutrition Matters, they are a partner of TSBF
We need to set up a monitoring programme to monitor benefits at a micro level, eg at the family level
We need a costing for soya production including likely floor price and bonus

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Active Again

Back in Nairobi to try to raise some more money for Farmers Own so the bog will be more active over the next 3 weeks

Jocali on Saturday
Jocali is a Swahili word meaning hot sun but it is used in Kenya to describe the roadside fundis who maintain cars on patches of waste ground near petrol garages. These Fundis have usually worked with the big maintenance garages then set up on their own as a business. Usually there is one experienced and older guy and then several younger apprentices. Some of these Jocali are very good and Sam and I visited such a one on Saturday to sort out the Farmers Own pickup which was suffering badly from lack of TLC, especially for the steering. The Farmers Own staff have experienced two bad crashes recently and we definitely need to avoid another one. Also Sam and Laban had been stopped by the police for polluting Nairobi with black smoke from the exhaust. Not sure why they picked on us when just about every matatu and lorry in the whole country has the same problem.
The Fundis drained and flushed the engine, fitted new oil and air filters, new brakes, serviced the steering pump, filled the steering system with hydraulic fluid and welded on a new bonnet catch which had been missing since July. We had been having bad visions of the bonnet flying open and smashing the windscreen.
Now it is much better, I feel more confident driving round Nairobi.

I went to East Leigh today to buy some trousers. Here there is an amazing concentration of shops big and small all selling cloth or clothing. There is a maze of unmade streets and now we have the rains most of them are either flooded or a sea of mud, the water smells dreadfully of sewage. The main street is tarmac but is narrow and constantly jammed with buses and matatus, the water in the side streets is constantly being sloshed all over the main street by traffic so the whole place is wet and smelly right now. East Leigh is also a transport hub where long distance buses lorries and matatus set off for the North. The place is so thronging with people and the hand carts which are used to move goods around the locality that traffic is constantly at a crawl. The people and the hand carts have to find a way through the buses and the mud so shopping in East Leigh it is a real obstacle course and quite an adventure. Best to buy 2 pair of trousers one of which should be brown

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Distributing Seed to Farmers in West Kenya

Seed Distribution on 24 October:

We have as of today managed to deliver 288Kgs of sunflower seed to the three FAA co-ordinators for sale to their respective farmers as requested. Kenya Seed sold to Farmers Own at Kshs.150/kg. Progress on the sales will be monitored on phone and more seed will be delivered promptly upon request by the co-ordinators. The rain patterns have been erratic and the farmers are a bit cautious on when to plant. Certain areas like Abdi's FAA-Lugari district received rains in September and some farmers bought seeds on their own and planted. We are yet to ascertain the actual numbers and acreages from the co-ordinator. In Bungoma, there is a general concern that the seeds have come in a bit late into the season but there are still good prospects since sales began immediately the seeds arrived.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Meet the Farmers and a Request

This is a picture of the Farmers and Government Officials at a meeting in Kakamega, Western Province, Kenya.
I f you are interested in helping one thing we need now is your old mobile phone, if you are changing you phone then please give your old one to Farmers Own, this will help us greatly with communication in the field.
Please contact me via the blog. Many thanks , Tony

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute - TSBF

Just catching up with meetings, I had a good meeting with Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute - TSBF, here in Gigiri, Nairobi, last week on Monday.
This Institute is supported by Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical – CIAT and by Rockefeller
We had a good and positive meeting with Dr Jonas Chiana and Dr Omo Ohiokpehai who have a project to look at the potential of soyabeans in enhancing rural livelihoods and small industries is funded by Rockefeller. Their aims are to determine soyabean production potential, to determine markets, to evaluate competitiveness of soyabean
Of all the local organisations we have talked to this group are the most interested to co-operate, we have contacts and information that they need for their project. They need help with organic farming techniques, use of compost, links to farmers groups in Western province and links to markets, in return they can help with technical support, baseline surveys and soya processing techniques and equipment.

Laban, the Farmers Own Agricultural Officer

I need to tell you something about our agricultural officer Laban and what a great chap he is. Despite severe finger injuries after the crash he came with me to Western Province with Elli Janssen from the Dutch donor ICCO and he managed Elli’s difficult and probing questions with great honesty, confidence and style. Elli was very interested in women’s issues and was concerned about women’s representation on the self-help groups (SHGs) and farmers action associations (FAAs). In fact she was so impressed by his responses that she has asked Laban to go to a workshop in Nairobi in November to discuss gender issues.
Right now Laban is Farmers Own, without him we would be lost, as he is the one with the key contacts with the farmers and it is clear that the farmers trust him and believe in him. We need to recruit more staff like him but until we can we must rely on him.
One of my priorities is to make sure that he has the best attention for the finger injuries.
Initially Laban’s injuries were severe, he badly damaged 3 fingers of the right hand, one had a lot of soft tissue missing, one was broken and one had a lot of skin removed. The wounds should have been treated straight away at the Nyanza district hospital but in fact nothing was done until 23 hours after the accident and by this time infection had set in. This delay was because we had to buy the necessary wound dressings and iodine antiseptic solution required but we were all being treated as well. The next day during the doctors morning hospital round one of the doctors pointed at the x-ray slide and said his broken finger should be cut off. Fortunately later a Masaai houseman decided that the finger could be saved and he did a good job of stretching it and fitting it back together. Later we all thanked this guy greatly for saving Laban’s finger.
Once admitted to Nyanza district hospital it was very difficult to get him out but when we did I took him straight to Aga Kahn hospital, Kisumu, for a check up where they were able to bandage him properly. When we got to Nairobi I took him to the Aga Kahn hospital here where he was a last able to get the proper splint. After recent visits to the hospital last weekend, on Monday and finally yesterday (Friday 7th) I am glad to say that the break has healed and the other wounds are healing well.

Meeting the Farmers with Elli Janssen from ICCO

Meeting the Farmers with Elli Janssen from ICCO
We meet the Provincial Government
Initially we met Leonard Ochieng a new deputy Provincial Director of Agriculture (PDA) in Western Province. He emphasised that we need to get approval for the scheme from the Provincial and District Agricultural Boards, we have to justify the following aspects to these committees, markets, sustainability aspects, effect on people and environmental risk assessment.
We also met the Provincial Commissioner (PC) and his deputy, they gave us the following information, there are 3 million people in Western Province and the economy is entirely agricultural, growing maize, beans, sugar cane and bananas, they also have fish from Lake Victoria. The PC emphasised the sustainability dimension, can the project continue if donor funding is withdrawn and he emphasised the need for project identity with the local people. He also made the point made previously when Jim visited, what can Farmers Own do to keep trading when donor funds are low.
Meeting the Farmers
Willi Wachilonge, Chepkwabi, Bungoma
Later we meet the farmers in Bungoma, we go to Kililili to meet Willi Wachilonge and his Farmers Action Association (FAA) with a leader and 2 assistant leaders together with leaders from 15 self help groups (SHGs) representing about 400 farmers; quite a number of the leaders are women. We are welcomed by Willi and Stanley Kibasa, the local chief. As we arrive so do the rains, a large black cloud covers the area and suddenly the rains that they have been waiting for arrive big time. The drops descend with a deafening noise on the roof of the church where we are meeting, we have to stop the meeting because of the noise but our hosts are really happy because they say that it is good when visitors arrive and bring rain.
We ask what do they really need now and the answer is provision of sunflower seed to the SHGs right now. The farmers cannot get the right seed at the point of use without the help of Farmers Own (FO). The other big problem is lack of market; once the seed is grown they need FO to move the product to market.
We discuss the advantages of Farmers Own
A key point is that when growing only maize and beans then as they say the stomach is full but the pocket is empty. These crops produce food and not cash, so they need to grow cash crops to provide money to clothe their children, send children to school, rent land, build houses buy animals, buy medicines and the other essential requirements which only money can bring.
Other advantages are food security and increased nutrition as some of the cash crop is retained for use in the community. Other plus points are; the provincial government is involved, FO gives training, FO provide contracts and FO provides seed at point of use and supervises planting. An indicator is that once groups become established then other groups want to join because FO is trusted in the area.
Talking to the women they are keen to use the money to increase the size of the business by renting more land or expanding into group projects to make bricks, build a shop, sell clothes, making clothes etc, so there is a real vision within the groups.
Issues and problems
We discussed the issue of other buyers in the market, this happened in 2004 and can cause confusion, but an important point came out that the farmers recognised that these operators had poor weighing scales, when tested a 50 kg sack weighed 38kg on their scales, so they are reluctant to use these middlemen. The FO weigh scales are properly calibrated and have a government certificate.
Group needs
The following are further needs; more training, training workshops, help with FAA organisation matters, easier access to FO agricultural staff to solve problems, request for FO to have a local office in Bungoma.
The groups need help with the banks, particularly opening and managing bank accounts and the problem of bank charges when the amount of money gets low; they would like bank loans to help buy equipment.
Abdi’s Group in Vuyika, Lugari
We meet Anna, Beatrice, Patrick, Ibrahim, Roland, Albert, Roger, Abraham, Phillip and Abdi, all leaders of SHG’s in the FAA. Again their main immediate need this year is sunflower seed for farmers. They are a very go ahead group wanting to raise money and buy equipment for the group. They are keen on more training seminars on organic marking techniques. They are very much looking forward to moving into passion, pineapple and avocado. This group is a leading group and their ideas and activities act as a catalyst for others. For example they are keen to start to cultivate their own seed instead of buying from the seed company. They have bought a hand press for sunflower oil and they would like 2 more presses. They now have electrical power so they may be able to get a power press in future.
This group have trust in FO, they would like FO to have a local office. They emphasised the benefits of growing soya and its use to improve nutrition for children and for AIDS victims and thanked FO for introducing them to this crop.
One issue in 2004 at the time of harvesting BIDCO the sunflower processor in Nakuru came into the market offering farmers more money per kilo, this caused a lot of confusion, but in fact they never came to collect so the farmers don’t trust them, but in future FO needs to negotiate with BIDCO to try to avoid this confusion.
Paul Mlulu’s Group in Mbakalu, Bungoma
This is a very poor area, the children have very poor clothes, and the FAA members themselves are not well clothed. Again the key need now is sunflower seed for farmers at point of use. In this area transport is a problem and it will help if FO can allow cycles to be used to deliver seed. We discussed the problem of middlemen trying to buy crop and the confusion this can bring, but the key point about the weighing machine was well understood and again we saw the trust that FO has built up. The Group are looking forward to growing sunflower, soya and groundnuts. Issues include the problem of a local FO office for training, advice and support. There are a lot of farmers in this area; FO can grow rapidly here in future.

The Journey to Kakamega Tuesday 4 October

The Journey to Kakamega Tuesday 4 October
After the horrendous experience with the Awasi to Kisumu road we flew from Nairobi to Kisumo on the morning Kenyan Air flight which was delayed 2 hours because one of the crew was sick. Just as we descended into Kisumo there was a violent bump as the plane flew through some different air, I turned to Laban and said wryly that we had just flown over Awasi !!
We hired a Toyota taxi with a driver called Eliga to take us to Kakamega. As usual he first drove into the petrol station to take on fuel but only just enough for the journey, if you look at the petrol gauge it is usually hovering just above empty. On the way the taxi suddenly started to hiccup and stopped, the driver started cursing the guys who had put in the fuel saying that they had swindled him by not putting in enough, then he got some passers by to push the car to a petrol pump which was fortunately nearby. We set off but then the same thing soon happened again, fortunately we were able to coast downhill to some fundis who set about dismantling the fuel line. The line has a filter, which turned out to be completely blocked; also the air filter was badly blocked so both were cleared by the fundis. It seemed that the taxi driver who did own the vehicle had not carried out any maintenance since he got the car, in fact the leader of the maintenance team gave Eliga a talking to about maintenance. Maintenance has always been a big problem here, there is no word for it in Swahili, traditionally if something breaks (the house falls down) then they just build another one.
Finally we arrived in Kakamega; it felt like we had climbed a big mountain to get here after the adventures of the previous week.
An other notable event happened to us during our stay, a thief came into the Golf hotel at 5 in the morning, he came into my room but I was awake because of the muscular pain from the crash so he quickly went out but someone called the police and he was caught, he had taken something from another room. There was a conference involving government officials and I spoke to several and we talked about the security situation in the country and why it is bad compared with Tanzania and Uganda. In Dar the Indian women wear their jewellery in the street, you will never see that in Nairobi. It seems that during the Moi era the police were not paid so they had to resort to crime to live. Now things have improved but it takes time, the Government have initiated professional training for policemen to try to have a more professional force as they have in Uganda. I met quite a number of policemen after the accident, including Boru who was such a help to us in Kisumu, the ones I met were very helpful and professional, but their salaries are not high, take home pay is about $ 100 per month for a police officer. They asked me if I could help them get funding for professional courses to help to increase their salaries, a course for becoming a CID officer costs about $1000.
One of the government officials told me how he had been carjacked earlier this year, he had been locked in his boot, driven to a remote location, they took his shoes and told him to get out, then they drove off and left him.
I should mention something about our return journey. On the last day of our trip to see the farmers we met Paul Mlulu and his Groups. We met him at the roadside and he put his bike in the back of the pickup and jumped in himself. We turned off the tarmac road into a series of murrum roads, I asked Paul how far is it, 5 km he says, one and a half hours later we are still driving on some quite bad roads with some deep ravines and holes. Eventually we get there, Paul says sorry but a bridge is broken so we had to go a long way round. I am worried that we may miss the flight back if we have to take so long to return. In the end it was OK, after the meeting Paul took us another way and we were able to arrive in Kakamega at 4.30 to meet Eliga our famous taxi man who assured us that he had maintained his vehicle as instructed by the fundi, we had no trouble in reaching Kisumu airport by 5.30 that afternoon.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hard Work Brings Success

3 good days with Elli from ICCO a funding agency from the Netherlands, we visit the farmers and she hears their wishes and we are rewarded with enough funding to keep us going this year. We are all very relieved. More details over the weekend.