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Organic Herbs and Spices Business Group

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Kikuyu Organic Farmer’s Market -Mugumo Hotel Kikuyu

Residents of Kikuyu, Ndenderu, Sigona all the way to Limuru, you can now get ready access to Organic Food from the Kikuyu Organic Farmers market. The farmers are residents of Ondiri and Regen area where if you talk to them nicely will be able to organise basket deliveries and other value adds.

VENUE : MUGUMO PARK KIKUYU TOWN

DATE: 12TH DEC 2020 (INAUGURAL LAUNCH)

TIME: 9.00AM-1.00PM

Hosted by Ondiri Organic Farmers Group.

 

Barefoot Guide to Surviving COVID19- A Mighty Healthy Read

So  COVID19 hit us, right in the kidneys where it really hurts. Economies worldwide are smarting from the disruptions which forced many people to hole up in “Safety”. All rushing to stock up on tissue paper and hand sanitizer, in an effort to flatten the curves which were all so wavy and steep. The COVID pandemic has had its up and downs, but for the organic industry especially in Kenya (I can only speak for Kenya), it has seen a greater demand for healthy chemical free food, just ask Sylvia’s Basket  and she’s bound to have some inspiring financial records.

But we’re digressing, lets get to the matter at hand. The message of Let Thy Food be Thy Medicine and Thy Medicine Thy Food, really struck home. Many people are consciously transitioning into healthy chemical free food a.k.a Organic Food and they’re reaping the benefits.

Let Thy Food be Thy Medicine and Thy Medicine Thy Food

Food has always been a hot topic in Kenya (pun intended), and that’s why this interesting book is sure to have your mind salivating.

The Barefoot Guide to Surviving COVID19 is written by the Natural Food Barefoot Guide Writer’s Collective, a group of highly influential food advocates from Africa. Key among the writers is our very own Peter Mokaya CEO of the Organic Consumers Alliance.

COVID19 is a deadly disease which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives to date, it is sad that despite the damage the pandemic has had on the health and welfare of the human race, many are still divided on how to handle it. The Guide appreciates the magnitude of COVID19 but is keen to emphasize on the role of diet in strengthening our immunity.

Illustration from Chapter 1

The beauty of the book (aside from the great graphics and illustrations) is the easy language and story telling format it takes on which makes for a delightful read. The book focuses on indigenous African dishes which are available (depending on you locale) in open markets. It has 5 Chapters each very important to read which take the reader along the lives of different characters and holds your hand while explaining some highly technical topics but in a very laid back manner. The Guide is neither too technical nor is it over simplified to be of little use to those with background knowledge of the topics discussed.

The book is written by Africans for Africans and presents African solutions to Global problems

It explains the misconceptions that exist in the food industry while giving tangible solutions. From issues of negative impacts of high fat and calorie diets , to how to start your own garden are covered. The book paints a realistic holistic picture of the ordinary citizens quest for healthy food for their family and the challenges in misinformation that exist while giving feasible solutions to the problems presented.

The book is written by Africans for Africans and presents African solutions to global problems. It is a must read and the information contained is priceless. The COVID19 Pandemic is still raging, its not too late to change neither is it too late to improve.

The Guide is currently Free to Download on the Organic Consumers  Alliance (OCA) Website

https://www.organicconsumers.co.ke

https://www.organicconsumers.co.ke

 

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Much Ado About Organic/ Organic Certification at a SnapShot

The Organic Agriculture industry is full of Opportunities, but information about how to access these opportunities has not always been straightforward, particularly in Kenya. Organic Certification seems to be a grey area in terms of available information.  This article is for

  1. A person looking for ways to certify their farms as organic

  2. A person looking for ways to get their produce to market and need certification.

  3. A person looking for general information on organic certification.

If  you fall in one or more of the above categories then you’re in luck. The information has been packaged with you in mind.

Third Party Certification:

In this case, the certifier who is a certification company checks the system of production, handling and processing against the organic standards and once he confirms that the system conforms with the organic standards, he issues a certificate and allows the farmer to use an organic mark. The farmer in this case can therefore sell his or her products with an organic mark in the market. Where a farmer or a group of farmers are selling their products in the international market, it is mandatory to go through this type of certification due to the statutory requirements in destination countries such as European Union, United States and Japan.

3rd party Organic Certification

Third party certification is normally expensive since it is conducted by companies which have profit motives. In some case, where a farmer wants to sell their products in overseas markets, the companies accredited to undertake certification for such markets are from those countries. This means certification by these international companies where they sometimes bring in inspectors from those countries is expensive. In Kenya, there are several international certification companies that do operate. They include ECOCERT, IMO, Soil Association, Control Union, Ceres, Ugocert and Africert.

Where third party certification is being done for domestic or regional markets, local certification companies undertake certification using the East African Organic products standard(EAOPS). These companies are much cheaper than the international companies since they work with local staff. Once they complete the certification process, the farmer is allowed to use the organic mark (Kilimohai mark). The local companies that undertake certification include Organic consumers alliance, Acert, Encert and Nesvax Control.

Participatory Guarantee Approach (PGS):

Where farmers are selling their products in the domestic market, and within a short supply chain, this approach can be used. PGS is a transparent and well elaborate system that integrates participation of all actors in the chain to guarantee integrity of organic products and compliance with organic standards. PGS systems includes a functioning internal control system integrated with the principles of shared vision, transparency, trust, horizontality, participatory and learning among participants. PGS is cheaper compared to third party certification and well is suited for smallholder groups who sell their products locally or in farmers markets. To develop a PGS, farmers need to develop internal rules and clear management systems and procedures which comply with East Africa Organic Product Standards. They also need develop a mechanism of verifying compliance of every member with the internal rules and defined consequences for non compliance with internal rules which are implemented. Every member of the group should take a pledge to follow the rules and participate in the activities of the group including trainings.

Groups willing to develop a PGS system can contact Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) for training. KOAN is also in charge of assessing and approving PGSses which have been developed. Currently there are 3 groups which have approved PGSses and are participating in the market.

For a farmer to be certified or to be in an approved guarantee system, it is required that the farmer:

  • Has adequate physical separation of his or her organic operation from non-organic operation;
  • Has adequate records to demonstrate compliance with the standards;
  • His/her farm is inspected/peer reviewed at least once per year;
  • Undergoes a conversion period before full organic status

Certification system also requires that:

  • The farmer knows and understands the organic standards;
  • Signs a contract or takes a pledge;
  • Needs to be committed to, and capable of, implementing an organic agriculture system;
  • Establish records of his operation;
  • Accepts inspection/peer review and certification procedures.

 

Contacts for local certification bodies:

Name of Organisation:    Organic Consumers Alliance
Contact Person:  Dr. Peter Mokaya
Address:14360-00100 GPO Nairobi
Telephone: +254722435758
Email: mokayapm@gmail.com
Website: Http;//www.organicconsumers.co.ke

 

Name of Organisation: Encert Limited

Contact Person: Musa Njoka

Address:  P.O. BOX 74510-00200, NAIROBI

Telephone: 254 724 910 240

Email: info@encert.co.ke

Website: www.encert.co.ke

 

Name of Organisation: Acert services Limited

Contact Person:  Susan Njoroge

Address:  P.O. BOX 1175 Thika

Telephone: 0723857373

Email: info@acertlimited.net

Website: www.acertservicesltd.net

GROWING BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES IN THE ORGANIC VALUE CHAIN

This article appeared in AFRONET ISSUE NO 3 JANUARY TO JUNE 2020

 

Organic agriculture has the potential to generate significant incomes for households, thus potentially uplifting smallholder-farming households from poverty cycles and food/nutrition insecurity. Through various interventions, the number or farmer and land under organic cultivation has been constantly growing in Kenya. With land under organic cultivation increasing from 4,894 hectares in 2016 [1] to 172, 225 hectares under organic in 2019[2], the writing on the wall is clear, organic is the future of sustainable farming.

The commercial appeal of organic farming has led to a rising number of entrepreneurs eager to rake in the money, caution should be exercised, organic farming should not be viewed as a purely commercial interest, in fact most successful organic farmers started off as subsistence farmers growing only for their own consumption. Through initial struggles to get their processes and practices right, they eventually saw the business opportunity in supplying others with such products. They were able to persevere through the initial disappointments and change in mind-set required to transition into organic. They were able to understand their own farms and create harmonious balance. Any seasoned organic farmer will tell you, no two farms are alike; each has its own set of challenges and character, much like human beings.

[1]FIBl and IFOAM, The World of Organic Agriculture, The World of Organic Agriculture, 2016 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781849775991>. [2] FiBL and IFOAM, The World of Organic Agriculture, ed. by Helga Willer and Julia Lernoud, The World of Organic Agriculture Statistic and Emerging Trends 2019, 2019 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781849775991>.

For the few out of the many who successfully convert to organic production systems, commercialization of their agribusiness endeavors, pose considerable challenges. Without formal organic market access, most farmers are resigned to selling their produce to undifferentiated conventional markets, where premiums for organic produce are lost. Many organic farmer actually regress back to conventional farming habits due to lack of market access.

This is a paradox, many retailers would like to have organic produce as part of their grocery portfolio, but find it hard to source. The needs is there but there is a mismatch in capacity to fulfill those needs. On closer observation of the problem, the following is clear.

  1. Retailers are looking for organic produce to sell, the produce has to be of specific quality standards, and not just anything will go. The visual appeal has to be of equal or greater quality than conventional produce. They will be competing for the consumers’ attention and nobody wants to pay a premium for poor quality products. Yes, consumers can be fickle, even organic consumers.
  2. Consistent supply capacity has to be proven before a retailer takes the risk of opening up a new line of organic products. For retailers, especially big supermarkets, a new product line is a big investment. It involves the physical set up, the capacity building of staff ( all staff need to be sensitized on what is organic, nothing puts off a consumer faster than retail staff who don’t know what they are talking about), the branding and marketing. Going organic is as much a strategic choice for retailers as is the physical positioning of beverages and snack items. They are always looking for crowd pullers and with the increasing focus on healthy foods and lifestyles, organic food is high on the consumer and health totem pole. Therefore, a retailer requires assurances that the line of business is sustainable, in the retail business empty shelves drive away customers.
  3. Farmers may not necessarily have the requisite skills sets to meet retailers’ demands. Quantities of particular produce maybe available during certain seasons and then they disappear when the product is out of season. Same with quality, it is easy to have high quality produce in the beginning of the season, but maintaining such standards consistently may prove too much for unseasoned farmers.

 

Therefore, a stalemate of sorts persists, the farmers have the produce in plenty, but the retailers cannot take it and will not take it. Nobody gains anything and the masses are denied access to safe food.

 

Well, the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) has been working on the problem for a number of years. Attempting to bridge this market-supply gap. Through trial and error several things have been established but not limited to,

1) It is not enough to introduce farmers to retailers and vice versa, there has to be some added capacity for the farmers to be able to reach the quality standards of the retailers. Here issues of marketing and branding emerge. Gone are the days when just saying something is organic will sell. Consumers are looking for branded merchandise, something they can trace back to the source.

2) Retailers need assurance of regular and consistent supply. Farmers cannot operate as individuals; marketing collectives need to be established, farmers need to take control of the process.

3) It is not enough to have a marketing collective; a planting calendar needs to be established. To ensure consistency and reduce internal competition a system for growing what and when needs to be developed. This system needs to take into consideration what the market wants and in what volumes.

4) The prevailing agroecological conditions need to be observed, what can be grown with least effort should be grown, farmers need to avoid problem crops (pests and diseases, access to quality seed, etc.). Farming is an enterprise, if the costs of growing particular crops outweigh the market prices and leave little margins for profit, then they cease to be viable and should be abandoned until prevailing conditions change.

All viable lessons. KOAN’s latest attempt at streamlining the organic supply chain in Kenya currently involves farmers from Machakos and Murang’a counties. Murang’a supplies most of the vegetables while Machakos supplies the fruits creating a healthy balance. The project supported by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) started in 2018 with 90 farmers, 45 from each county with 3 retailers interested. This number has since grown to 200 farmers and 6 retailers.

With the experience gained from previous attempts, KOAN first selected entrepreneurial and market ready farmers. The farmers were taken through the usual capacity building sessions with particular emphasis on managing expectations as well as conveying the importance of professional conduct in approaching business. Retailers were also involved in order to eliminate any casualness, the gravity of the whole system needed to be appreciated. This was not business as usual and everybody on board got the message. Initial meetings were organized between farmers and retailers. This was mainly to get the farmers to grow exactly what the market required. KOAN engaged field coordinators to assist the farmers in aggregating their products. The coordinators served as the nodes between farmers and retailers. The farmer marketing collectives would eventually absorb them.

 

Proof of the pudding is in the eating. Sales began in the month of November 2020. By December the volumes had considerably increased and February 2020 saw the highest volumes traded since. By this time two farmer cooperatives had been formally registered, i.e. the Murang’a Organic Growers Cooperatives Society and Machakos Organic Cooperative Society. With increase in confidence, retailers also started demanding for more, the current volumes were inadequate. This warranted the increase in farmer supply base.  More farmers recruited into the cooperative and supply volumes ramped up.  Projected volume for supply had the situation remained constant would have been northwards of 10 tonnes monthly since the volumes had been growing by 30%monthly.

 

As with any worthwhile endeavour, challenges will be encountered and for this particular system, the COVID 19 pandemic struck hard. With limited movements and reduced consumption, most households are keeping a firm grip on their expenditures. Hotels and restaurants closed their doors to clients, retailers reported significant dip in consumer spending. These were by far the biggest buyers and significantly reduced their demand. The situation might seem bleak but it has also revealed opportunities.

  • Nairobi cannot be the only market for organic produce, with increased sensitization more viable markets can be cultivated closer to home. This will also lead to increased profits for the farmers with transport cost reduced substantially.
  • Third party traders and retailers need not be the only outlets; the cooperatives can develop their outlets and market their products as organic. This is a reality in other sectors, Fresha Milk, a popular brand in Kenya is owned by Murang’a Dairy Cooperative Society.
  • Post harvest preparation and Value addition needs to be part of the system. Today there might not be a market, but the situation might change overnight.

The story is not at an end yet, with the support of KOAN, the cooperatives are exploring the above options. Although demand from Nairobi still exists, the COVID19 pandemic revealed how fragile the system is. A pivot is needed, to where and what?  Only time will tell. Watch this space for updates.

 

 

[1] FIBl and IFOAM, The World of Organic Agriculture, The World of Organic Agriculture, 2016 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781849775991>.

[2] FiBL and IFOAM, The World of Organic Agriculture, ed. by Helga Willer and Julia Lernoud, The World of Organic Agriculture Statistic and Emerging Trends 2019, 2019 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781849775991>.

 

The following article appeared in AFRONET ISSUE NO 3 JANUARY TO JUNE 2020

 

The Future is Not Organic

By a show of hands/clicks Who wants to be a farmer in Kenya right now?

Farmers in Kenya are grappling with multiple problems, from high input prices to frequent pest and disease infestations.

To be a farmer in Kenya is to accept suffering all in a bid to feed a nation that gives little thought to where their food comes from. Traditional crop farming has been replaced with more conventional farming methods; and it seems only those who have gone high tech seem to be reaping most of the benefits especially when middlemen come into the picture.

middle men in the agricultural value chain
Farmers are suffering because of exploitation by unscrupulous middlemen

So what?

The picture maybe daunting but there is always a way. On 22 September 2018, the world celebrated the World Organic Agriculture Day; in Kenya we commemorated the event a day earlier at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies. The KENYA ORGANIC FOOD FESTIVAL AND EXHIBITION (KOFFE) ,organized by among others Egerton University, the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network, saw multiple players in the organic agriculture sector discuss the past, present and future recourse.

Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI) for Peace and Environmental Studies

Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI) for Peace and Environmental Studies

Farmers displaying their products were smiling all the way. Having worked with them for the past 4 years I could understand their mirth, they played the long game and are now reaping the benefits. Not to be overlooked, organic farmers still face the same challenges as conventional farmers, they suffer pest and disease attacks but the losses they incur are usually within the economic threshold.

Kenya Organic Food Festival and Exhibition (KOFFE) 2018

Why is that? What Makes Organic Farming so Special?

Crops grown organically in ecologically sound conditions grow hardier and more resilient to environmental shocks as well as pest and disease attacks. They are nutrient packed and fetch much better prices than conventionally grown produce. Due to poor traceability and hygiene standards in conventional systems, a growing number of conscious consumers are willing to pay a premium price for organically certified foods. Take for example a kilo of tomatoes, if grown under normal conventional system it will go for KES 80-100 at the local market, if it is organic the price will range from KES 120-180, where the latter will have spent much less to produce. This means that the organic farmers will always get a fair price for their produce and not suffer the exploitation of intermediaries.

Food security… Much Ado about Organic

Some pundits will argue that if all farmers were to go organic, Kenya would never be able to achieve food security. Nevertheless, despite over 50 years of conventional agriculture, Kenya is still yet to attain food security and this has nothing to do with organic agriculture, because it is all about systems.

In 2015, a national wide soil survey released by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Egerton University revealed that Kenya soils are exhausted. Farmers are now spending more on inputs but with diminishing outputs, this has led to Kenya being a net importer of food.

That is unless you are an organic farmer; through sound soil nurturing and production practices they are able to maintain high levels of productivity at a fraction of the cost.  It more about the farmers’ mindset, passion and sustainable thinking other than pure commercial interest are the driving force. Fairness to the environment, to the people and to all contributors is a central theme. As proven by the state of Sikkim India, food security is possible through organic practices. Going organic means farmers’ health will not be at risk thereby prolonging their capacity to produce food for the nation.

Organic farmer smiling all the way

What about cost of food? Too good to be affordable?

Organic food is perceived as expensive, and maybe it is and with rising cost of living not that many households can bear the additional cost. However, as any economist will tell you, once there are more players in the industry, market forces will drive down organic food costs. Majority of commercial organic farmers produce for export markets but if more farmers joined the scene, the local market will have adequate supply. This will also not only create opportunity for other players (input manufactures, processors, certifiers etc.) but will effectively lower other operational costs.

We’re living in the world of now, and many people will shrug and say they’ll just wait and see.

Martin Njoroge

The problem comes in when people are consuming pesticide residue laden foods, which is manifesting itself in myriads of illnesses, organic foods don’t have pesticide residues because the organic farmers don’t use them in the first place and they put in measures to prevent contamination from such. That’s the whole point of going organic really, plus the sense of safety in knowledge that twenty year from now some scientist won’t discover that the chemicals considered safe today aren’t that safe really.

“Proof of the pudding is in the eating” – Origins of GRAS. . .

The future..The Now.. And In between

Promoting organic agriculture in Kenya is all about promoting the health of the nation. With a serious cancer prevalence, the burden of disease is seriously impeding our developmental progress as a country. Kenya has a checkered past where commercial interests have overridden the health and safety of the people. This need not be. The Organic movement in Kenya is real and very vibrant but unfortunately not many people are aware of its existence. Farmer and consumer education on the benefits of adopting organic production practices is critical, because they can be used in tandem with conventional practices.

The National and County governments have a central role in sensitizing farmers, and working with NGO’s who have been the main drivers behind the organic movement, organic agriculture will be mainstreamed in policies and practices in Kenya. This does not mean the ball lies solely on the government’s court; all farmers should take up the responsibility and decide that their health and the health of consumers come first and do the necessary to bridge the gap in between.

So its The NOW but not the Future that is Organic

City Food Systems


By Prof. Raphael G Wahome edited by Zachary Kimari

Cities are largely dependent on the rural areas for food. Unwittingly, they usually are the final and most important component of the complete city food system. In a nutshell, the food system is simply  an economic system, that facilitates  production, aggregation, processing and distribution of food to city dwellers; with proceeds flowing back through the value chain actors’ and even further  back to input manufacturers. However, it is much more complex than that it seems. It has effects on soil structure, fertility and water-holding capacity; resilience to climate change, crop, animal and human productivity; food security, health and biodiversity; social capital, employment generation, gender; and general national development. It is therefore apparent, that it transcends geopolitical relationships, politics, governance, social and cultural aspects.

The demand for affordable foods in the cities grows at the rate of population growth modulated by changing tastes and cultural diversity. There is also a  similar increase in enterprises to meet this demand, driven by desire for profit.  These enterprises span across the provision of needed inputs and equipment, through aggregation transport and distribution to the consumer industry of retailing and restauranting. 


Interest to make money has overridden core needs of sustainability, health, fairness and care

Opportunity for gain abounds, since people must eat. In modern times, interest to make money has overridden core needs of sustainability, health, fairness and care. The consequences are manifest in depleted and poisoned soils, loss of biodiversity, exponential increase in non-communicable diseases,  oppression and exploitation of the producing communities and urban poor.In their current state, city food systems are not sustainable and are failing to meet food and nutrition needs for all.

Farmer Spraying Farm

Increasing demand for food is linked to greater, intensified and extensive  use of synthetic agricultural inputs. Ultimately Modern farming has  been equated to desertion of nature for production needs. It does this at a high cost to the environment and resultant loss of resilience among the poor.  The cost of biodiversity loss or for ecosystems services is not met by the current system. Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined in the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – Synthesis, 2005).  Finally, nature has started to fight back. Now even FAO has recognized the need for “production intensification through ecosystem management” (Plant Production and Protection Division, www.fao.org/ag/AGP). That ideally, consumers should care about what they eat is produced, how safe and nutritious it is, has come as a revelation to many. 

Despite this “revelation” agricultural production tends to follow the same old cue. It seems as if the only approvable model of agricultural production in the developing world must ape that in developed world – meaning greater intensification and mono-cultural production dependent upon stronger push for more synthetic input. It is thus easy to predict the outcome. With nature fighting back, more inputs must be made available for less production until vast portions of hitherto productive land lies in waste. Examples abound globally and locally.

The following article appeared on the Kenya Organic Food Festival and Exhibition 2018 Proceedings

Snowball

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