Cereals firm partners with youth group to support 12,000 farmers

Ms Pauline Kinyua, Tegemeo Cereals Company project manager, recording farmers' produce for aggregation and storage before market.

Photo credit: Peter Musa I Nation Media Group

When Innocentia Kangai joined Tharaka Technical and Vocational College in 2018 to study a diploma course in agriculture, which would enable her become an agronomist, she had thought about the job market.

She knew about the high rate of unemployment due to limited opportunities, even in the field of agriculture, and understood that seeking employment after college was not the most suitable option for her.

She needed to play it differently to be ahead of the pack.

“While in college, I decided to bring together a few of my colleagues to brainstorm on ideas that could get us noticed by the local companies in the agriculture sector. I convinced Fridah Kathambi, a close friend, of the need to create a group composed of like-minded colleagues where we could share business ideas and get mentorship and skills’ engagement with entrepreneurs. This is what led to a WhatsApp group known as Tharaka Agronomists.

By the time Kangai and her colleagues completed their three-year course, she and six others in the group had benefited from the expertise of six local entrepreneurs who had taught them how to add value to, and up their skills.

“One of these entrepreneurs was Peter Mutegi, founder and managing director of Tegemeo Cereals, which specialises in certified seed production, processing and marketing, and who was looking for youth to assist him with distribution of seeds, fertiliser and chemicals to his farmers’ network,” says Kangai.

The businessman would go on to engage the group as one of his suppliers, and also contracted them to carry out farmers’ field trainings, which involves advising farmers on better crop management practices for best yields and maximum income.

When Tegemeo Cereals expanded its farmer coverage area, the company’s founder, Mr Mutegi, saw the need to formalise the group, now made up of 65 youth, calling it Changing Times Youth Group. Kangai is the team leader.

Transformed their lives

“We picked the name because it carries a clear message to everyone that farming is changing from a hand-to-mouth affair to agribusiness, and so has the attitude of young people towards agriculture changed,” she explains, adding that their relationship with Tegemeo, has gradually transformed their lives.

The Changing Times Youth Group members, who include agronomists, marketers and extension officers provide services such as inputs and agro-chemical distribution, training on proper inputs application, effective pest and disease control and proper crop and farm management.

Ms Innocentia Kangai, team leader -Changing Times Youth Group which is working with Tegemeo Cereals Company.

Photo credit: Peter Musa I Nation Media Group

Mutegi says the youth have given his company a boost in sales and farmers are happier because of the advisory outreach programmes which now cover more areas. The company pays the youth a commission based on sales’ volume.

Tegemeo also collects cereals from farmers for storage before supplying to the local market, which it buys at approximately Sh8, 000 for a 90-kg bag of green grams, and Sh4, 000 and Sh3, 200 for a 100kg bag of millet and sorghum respectively.

Some of the farmers are certified to grow cereals for seed production.

On average, the company collects 2,000 metric tons of millet, 1,500 metric tons of sorghum and 100 metric tons of green grams from farmers every year. However, the prevailing drought has affected production.

Largely one of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, farmers in Tharaka-Nithi mainly focus on drought resistant crops such as millet, green grams and sorghum.

Tegemeo is also operating a similar programme in Makueni and Kitui counties, bringing the number of small holder farmers in the three counties to 10,000.

“After seeing the market potential, early last year we partnered with 2SCALE, a business incubation programme funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by a consortium of three organisations – the Netherlands Development Organisation, International Fertiliser Development Centre and BoP Innovation Centre.

In our pilot programme with 2SCALE, the youth working with Tegemeo started receiving Sh3, 500 monthly as emolument to cushion them for their field transport. This has boosted our distribution network capacity,” says Mutegi.

Pauline Kinyua, Tegemeo project manager, says that a similar project is due to start in August this year, which will support 20 more youth from Kitui and Makueni counties.

“Under the 2SCALE programme, we have supported the youth to start their own projects, such as fruit and tree nurseries, chicken, sheep and goat farming, and one of them is now running his own agrovet shop,” says Ms Kinyua.

The youth are also doing table banking with the aim of improving their financial cash flow.

“Working with Tegemeo helped me to network with other youth and learn skills and ideas to support my life. I was able to establish a small garden where I grow sukuma wiki as a way of supplementing my income, earning between Sh6, 000 and Sh7, 500 from my small business,” says Peter Murangiri.

Fridah Kathambi is another youth who lauds this partnership: “Working with Tegemeo as an inputs supplier has helped me to make some small saving with which I have started a poultry keeping project at home.

Share views

"The aim of starting the WhatsApp group with Kangai was to provide youth with a platform for communicating our challenges, share views on achieving our goals, and the ways to make youth an impactful part of the community,” she adds.

Theophile Mudenge, a youth inclusion expert at 2SCALE programme, says youth lacked interest in agriculture in the past because older people in the sector did not find a way to engage them to appreciate its potential.

“They were disinterested because nobody showed them how it would benefit them economically. Armed with good education, enthusiasm and adequate exposure to technology and market knowledge, many young people are turning to agriculture for a livelihood as they can see where farming is taking them,” he adds.

“The sky is the limit to youths, as they have the potential of becoming more productive than the past generation of farmers,” he says.

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