Farmer groups show the way in growing safer food

Vasha Greens

Fidelis Macharia, a shop attendant at Vasha Greens in Naivasha, where farmers from three counties sell food grown under best agricultural practices.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The green container located in Kayole, a short distance from the busy Naivasha-Nairobi highway, may pass as any other in the area.

Surrounded by shops and makeshift stalls selling vegetables and other fresh produce, the container measuring 14 metres long and four metres wide and sitting on an eighth-acre, hosts a grocery store named Vasha Green owned by farmer groups.

But this is not your ordinary vegetable store as all the produce sold there is grown under sustainable production methods and can be traced back to the farmer.

The shop stocks tomatoes, spinach, carrots, cabbages, spider plant (saget), African nightshade (managu) garden peas, onions, sukuma wiki, onions, amaranthus (terere), stinging nestle, coriander and potatoes, among others.

The shop is solar-powered and has a cold storage facility.

The produce is grown by 146 smallholder farmers in Nyandarua, Nakuru and Narok counties under the umbrella of Lake Naivasha Basin Sustainable Horticulture Farmers.

"The farmers have been trained on strict adherence to food safety standards to ensure there is less harm to the environment," says Paul Ruoya, the group's chairman, adding that to open the shop, they received support from World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya (WWF-Kenya) through the European Union.

The group leased the land on which they set up the shop and constructed it while the institutions invested Sh5 million in the entire project, most of which went on training of the farmer groups.

The training focused on aspects of post-harvest losses, safe use of chemicals, integrated pest management, financial management and record-keeping.

Hannah Kahutu is one of the small farmers supplying produce to the shop opened early last month.

Hanna Kahutu

Ms Hanna Kahutu inspecting potato crop on her farm in Njabini, Kinangop Sub-County in Nyandarua County on June 30, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

She grows potatoes, coriander, garden peas, spinach, carrots, amaranthus, and onions, on two-half acres in Njabini, Nyandarua County.

"I use a minimum tillage system to grow my crops and apply mainly organic fertiliser. I use very little inorganic fertiliser and pesticides,” she says.

She drains animal waste from her Friesian cow and a heifer calf into a shallow bowl filled with compost to dry. It is then left there for days before being used as fertiliser.

"All smallholder group members buy certified seeds from approved dealers and must use pesticides products that are approved by the Pest Control Product Board for their produce to end up at the shop. This enhances traceability," explains Hannah.

Gabriel Kariuki, an information science graduate from Moi University, says he supplies lettuce, cucumber, coriander and capsicum to the shop.

"The green shop has made me improve on aspects of packaging and reduce post-harvest losses as the management seeks a ready market for our produce. We no longer sell to brokers at throwaway prices," says Kariuki.

For traceability, farmers must obtain an official receipt on purchase of seeds and keep the receipts and empty seed packets throughout the growing season for reference in case of complaints.

Vasha Greens shop
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Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The farmers, who must be registered with their groups, keep records of all transactions and operations on the farm. They hoist a red flag in an area where they have sprayed chemicals to warn other farm users that the crop is not ready for harvesting.

When they deliver produce at the shop, their details including name, identification number, location, inputs used and information on planting, cultivation and harvesting of their produce are captured.

The shop, which has employed three youths who man it, received a milestone recently after it was awarded KS1758 certification from Bureau Veritus, which allows them to sell produce in formal retail outlets and even export.

The certification is a standard for food safety and good agricultural practices that do not harm the environment and consumers’ health.

Cyprian Kabbis, the chief executive officer of Bureau Veritus, in-charge of East Africa, says the certification KS 1758 is a journey to attaining international certification.

"Although it is local, the good agricultural practices were benchmarked with global standards. It is easy for farmers to move to the global market with a KS 1758 certificate," says Kabbis.

Daniel Mbogo Nderitu, the manager, Naivasha Municipality, notes: "The green shop is a classic example of how to create green jobs for unemployed youth."

Joyce Isiaho, the head of fundraising and partnerships at WWF-K, observes that up to Sh5 million has been invested in training farmers and the shop since 2018.

"Vasha Green is a good lesson to smallholder farmers that it is possible to produce clean certified food produce in Kenya," she says.

Tricxie Akinyi, a senior horticultural officer at Horticultural Crops Directorate, says once it is possible to do traceability, supermarkets and top hotels would find it easier to buy produce from small farmers.

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