Tabitha Mulewa Benson is one of a group of farmers in semi-arid eastern Kenya whose income is rising because of market research.
Mrs. Mulewa Benson belongs to the Meko Ma Aka Women’s Group (“Women in action”), one of 18 market research groups created as part of a research project with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Canada’s McGill University. The project helps farmers adopt farming practices which increase the resiliency of their farms, including drought-tolerant seed varieties, and soil and water conservation practices. It also trains the farmers in group-based market research to help sell their crops at a profit.
Recently, Mrs. Mulewa Benson got a much better price than usual for her green grams by taking advantage of the market research group’s activities. She sold four bags of green grams and used the money to buy two bulls to plough her two hectares of land.
Philip Mwania is the chairperson of the Katangi Focal Research Development Area market opportunity group. The organization, also known as FRDA, is made up of three groups: the Mako Ma Aka Women’s Group, the Kamumbu Self-Help Group and the Mengukya Self-Help Group. Members of these groups were trained in market identification, assessment and planning.
Mr. Mwania explains, “We ask farmers to keep their crops, then members of the market committee meet and discuss the best price to sell the produce.” After determining the best selling price, they send a team to urban markets to identify current prices. If the prices are too low and they are expected to rise after some weeks or months, the farmers store the produce until the right time.
This kind of market research helped farmers from the Mengukya Self-Help Group sell their first batch of green grams for double the price they received before they used the marketing team.
Josephat Mbete is chairman of Mengukya Self-Help Group. He explains that the Group collects more than fifty 100-kilo sacks of green grams and then calls a buyer. He says, “We were able to sell at 70 shillings per kilo, which was twice the price we could sell without the market research team.”
Mr. Mbete adds that when farmers have good harvests, they need proper storage facilities while they wait for better prices. The Group encourages farmers to build good facilities. But good quality, modern storage facilities made of iron sheets and wooden poles are costly.
Mr. Mwania says that when the farmers’ produce is ready, the marketing team calls each buyer on their contact list and tells the buyer how many tonnes of produce they have. He adds, “Each one gives us his price, and as a committee we meet and decide on which buyer to give the crops.”
The farmers are encouraged to save the income from selling their crops and either buy farm inputs or pay school fees.
Farmers in all 18 market research groups can choose from sixteen different crops that have been researched and found suitable for the area’s climate. Currently, they are growing nine of the sixteen crops, and are yielding enough for their own consumption and for sale.
The farmers are not only selling green grams as a group; they are also getting a good price selling indigenous chickens. The increased income has helped the Mengukya Group progress to become a Community-based organization.
Mrs. Mulewa Benson says this approach to marketing helped her buy the oxen to prepare her land in time for the first rains. She is helping her fellow farmers by letting them use her oxen free of charge.
She says she can now help her husband raise money for their family. She’s proud to say: “I can now tell my husband ‘Hey! This time I will pay school fees for the children!’ Life is now better and I can see a very bright future.”