Sawa Pius | April 30, 2012
When Michael Gitau worked as an engineer in Nairobi, he had no interest in farming. After twenty years of employment, he thought he had enough money to feed his family and educate his children. But after retiring, the 70-year-old from Gatundu in central Kenya found that his pension could not sustain the whole family. He wanted to remain active after retiring, and thought farming would provide a good income.
He explains, “I grow bananas, pineapples, butternut, pumpkins, eggplant, and vegetables like green pepper, spinach and cabbage. I do this as my business because that is where I get my daily meal and expenses.”
But Mr. Gitau’s farm in Gatundu is a little different than many others. He practices organic farming and is certified by ENSET, an East African certifying body based in Nairobi. He has a one-hectare plot, which contains a small woodlot. Mr. Gitau says organic farming is better than conventional farming because he does not need to use chemicals. He can make his own compost manure. He also believes that organic products keep the body healthy and reduce sickness.
His major buyers include hotels and the catering facilities of international organizations like ICIPE that purchase organic produce for workshops and trainings. He says, “They are paying me well. That’s where I get money to educate my children and take care of my home problems.”
Samuel Ndungu is the National Market Development Advisor at the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network. He says the global rise in demand for organic products has created opportunities for Kenya’s small-scale farmers. An estimated 12,000 Kenyan farmers are involved in certified organic production and export, while a further 200,000 farmers grow for the domestic market.
According to Mr. Ndungu, more and more Kenyans want to buy organic products, and every greengrocer would like to start an organic section in their shop. The organic sector in Kenya is worth 10.5 million dollars annually, with most organic produce destined for Europe. The domestic market is worth about one million dollars annually.
It is close to six years since Mr. Gitau was certified as an organic farmer. He says he earns twice what he used to with conventional farming. He says, “If the price is good for the product, what else do you need? Why do you need employment?”
Mr. Gitau is also the chairman of the Central Organic Farmers and Consumer Organization. The organization has more than 5000 small-scale farmer members, divided into 28 groups. To maintain year-round supply, farmers grow at intervals. Thus, when some crops are being harvested, others are maturing, while others are being planted.
Farmers in the organization are happy to practice organic farming as a business. They have eliminated middlemen so that they can receive maximum profits. Mr. Gitau says that, previously, some farmers in the organization were looking for employment. But now, many of these farmers have returned to their small plots and rely on organic farming as their livelihood.