Farmers Trend team meets young men rush in and out of the dimly-lit store of the Soy Farmers Co-operative Society carrying sacks full of produce that they load onto lorries, destined to a market in Nairobi where it fetches millions of shillings for farmers.

Kiptoo Kipsang is a member of the Sacco, “The crop is increasingly enriching the lives of the Sacco members. This was not the case before.”

According to Kipsang, for many years, members of the society located at Kapkoiywo in dry Kerio Valley, Elgeyo-Marakwet and Baringo counties, lacked market for their produce and brokers took advantage of the situation to purchase their harvests at throw-away prices.

Kipsang has been religiously planting groundnuts since 1981, starting with half an acre piece of land but has since expanded to 15 acres.

He says, “The crop does well and when I plant the crop even if the rains delay . . . the seeds can stay in soils for more than two months and still flourish when rains come. I don’t rear goats or cows like most farmers in the region because the groundnuts give him good returns.”

Earlier on (Before joining the Sacco), Kipsang knew there was a great demand for the produce but the challenge was that there was no direct link between the buyers and the farmers, leaving the brokers to cash in.

Like in most cases, firms based in Nairobi that process products such as peanuts that use groundnuts as raw material are forced to import from countries such as Malawi to plug the deficit of the produce.

He recalls, “We faced serious challenges since we were at the mercy of the brokers who had more say over prices than us. They used to buy a kilo of un-threshed groundnuts for as low as Sh50 and would re-sell at Sh150.”

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In 2012, Mr. Kipsang and other farmers came together and formed the society to wed out middlemen and maximise profits.

“Initially, farmers were hesitant to join the movement. We started with 21 farmers because most of the farmers shied away from registering with us. They feared that it will collapse due to mismanagement,” Wilson Ruto, the cooperative’s chairperson, recounts.

But the society’s fortunes flourished sooner rather than later. In 2015, they sold groundnuts worth Sh3 million through the cooperative. The following year, they secured a deal with the Nairobi-based processing firm, Green Forest Foods Limited which bought the nuts worth Sh25 million. A bag retailed at Sh2,800.

Two years ago,  they hoped to make over Sh30 million from sales but they were unable to hit the target due to financial hitches attributed to the effects of prolonged election politics that affected most sectors of the economy.

“Last year, the economy was not performing well, the prices dropped from Sh70 to Sh65 per kilo . . .  We managed to make Sh18 million,” says Ruto.

Today, membership of the society has grown from 21 to 60. But they expect this figure to keep rising as more farmers have shown interest.

Ruto, “Our future plan is to buy from other farmers and then we thresh since we have a threshing machine. We can also add value to the crop so that we fetch higher prices.”

The Sacco’s effort has caught the attention of researchers from Egerton University’s crop department who are now providing them with high yielding fast maturing varieties.

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Due to harsh climatic conditions, maize does not flourish well here hence the option of alternative indigenous crops such as sorghum, groundnuts, and millet or green grams.

Researchers from Egerton University in collaboration with Elgeyo-Marakwet County government are promoting the growing of traditional crops to boost food security and earnings, to make farming more productive especially in semi-arid regions.

Prof Paul Kimurto is from department of crops at the university,”There are a number of new varieties that have been released in the market to enable farmers attain higher yields.

According to the Professor, most farmers in Kerio Valley region still grow the Zambia variety, locally known as Cheplambus,  which produces about three bags per acre and take five months to mature.

He  observes that they released CG7, ICGV 83704 and ICGV 9704 varieties to the market with potential of between 30 to 40 bags per acre and faster maturity of two and half months. That currently the country faces deficit for the produce and most firms that use groundnuts as raw material have been forced to import to plug the shortage.

Prof Kimurto, “We recently conducted research and found out that the best groundnuts are those that are grown in Kerio Valley because their aflatoxin levels are low (the area has sandy soils and witnesses low rainfall).”

By Malachi Motano

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