Packaging helps Kenyan carrot farmers reap ‘huge profits’ in Uganda

By Robert Manyara
Favourable packaging policy and consistent demand for carrots in Uganda have seen farmers in parts of Kenya's grain basket, the Rift Valley region, aggressively cross the borders to sell their produce.

   Existence of intermediaries and lack of clear legislations on standardized packaging of the agricultural produce has for a long time been an impediment to making small-scale commercial farming profitable in the East African nation.
   As the first step towards ensuring they draw maximum profits from their farming activities, the farmers have resorted to forming savings and Co-operative Societies (Saccos) to market their produce and hence bypass  the brokers.
   However, the challenge of parallel packaging still remains, with farmers, including those involved in the growing of potatoes, maize and peas accusing the brokers of exploiting them by using extended bags of more than 180 kilogrammes. They attribute the practice to absence of stiffer penalties against the offenders.
   In Uganda, farmers say, one is subject to prosecution for exchanging agricultural produce in a bag of more than 120 kilogrammes. And therefore, the existence of these factors in the neighboring East African state has encouraged farmers in Mau Narok, about 200 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, to swift their carrot market.
   Some of the 600 farmers, who have formed the Mau Narok Farmers Rural Sacco in Njoro, are reaping big from the sale of their agricultural produce to their Ugandan counterparts.
   "We have been exploited by middlemen for many years. They use extended sacks of more than 260 kilogrammes and buy at a frustrating price of less than 9 US dollars (about Ksh760). This is also the case for potatoes, peas and maize," Margaret Munga, the Sacco's Treasurer, told Xinhua in Nakuru.
   Ms Munga says the Sacco, which was formed in February 2012, collects carrots from the farmers operating within the constituency, grades and packages it before selling the produce to their customers.
   She says in the Kenyan market, they fetch a maximum of 21 dollars (about Ksh760) for a 180 kilogrammes bag unlike when they trade them to Ugandans who pay them between 23 dollars (about Ksh1,900) to 47 dollars (about Ksh3,950) for a standardized bag of 120 kilogrammes.
   "When we transport the carrots to Uganda, we make between 41 dollars (about Ksh3,500) to 47 dollars (about Ksh3,950) per 120 kilogramme bag, if they come for them, they buy from us for 23 dollars (Ksh1,900). But in Kenya the highest we can be paid is 21 dollars (about Ksh760) for a 180 kilogramme bag. We make huge profits when we trade them in Uganda," said John Njenga, the Sacco's marketing officer.
   Steady demand for bulky supply is another aspect that makes Uganda an attractive selling ground. Mr Njenga says in Kenya, prices are low and unpredictable while in Uganda they are high and constant for a certain period of time.
   "In Kenya, you cannot predict prices because they change so suddenly but in Uganda, there is a high demand, which can last for about four to six months," Njenga said.
   Though, they have not been able to wade off the penetration of the brokers in the Molo constituency, the farmers are happy for what they call “ incomparably huge profits”.
   The cost of input to produce high yields per acre, they say demands an average of 704 dollars (about Ksh60,000). In a favourable climate, they say, one can harvest up to 80 sacks of 90 kilogrammes per acre.
   For each farmer who markets his carrots through the Sacco, he is deducted only 0.94 dollars to cater for the cost of sustaining it, cleaning, grading and packaging of the carrots.
   "I have been a carrot farmer for the last eight years but I have never made any sustainable profit because brokers have been buying from us at consistently demeaning price. I used to make less than 2 dollars (about Ksh170) as profit but I am happy now because I am making at least 9 dollars (about Ksh760)," said Mary Gathimo, one of the farmers selling her carrots through the Sacco.
   The Sacco began with only 26 members but the number has been on the upward trend due to the growing relevance of its operations in the area.
   Peter Kagai, the Sacco's Secretary, says the Ugandan traders have been constantly placing orders for the supply as they Ugandans classify Kenyan  carrots to be of high quality.
   He says fertile loamy soil and the moderate environment scientifically considered favourable for the growing of the carrots, enables them to  produce the kind of carrots that is high nutritious and has a longer shelf life.
   "We produce highly nutritious carrots, which can last for three weeks without getting bad. And that is why the Uganda traders like them because they also supply their South Sudan counterparts," Kagai said.
   The Ugandans mainly grow Nantes variety although few others grow Chantenay, which is used for canning. The difference is that Nantes is long and narrow while Chutney is shorter and swollen. But both have an appealing orange colour.
   A carrot is a vegetable used both as a garnisher for making salads and an appetizer. Mixed with other fruits, it can be ground to make juice.
   Its green tops are full of potassium while the stick consists of Vitamin A, proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorous and also fats. Because of its high content in Vitamin A, it is highly advisable to chew while raw to enhance eye sight.
   The calcium content is also a reason why mothers are advised to give their children with developing jaws carrot sticks to keep cracking to draw the juice to strengthen their jaws and growing teeth.
   It also has a roughage composition, which is essential in relieving constipation. Kagai says the certified carrot seeds are available in various agro-chemicals outlets.
   But he insists that they should only be planted during a moderately wet season, otherwise they will burst and never sprout. Depending on the climate, they take four to five months to mature but remain unharvested for nine months if the temperature is cool.
   "Never make a mistake of planting when it is very dry or rainy, no seed will germinate and you will end up harvesting nothing. We usually make big losses during the heavy rains or drought," Kagai said, adding that they require minimal tendering unlike other crops.
   "You only need to weed by uprooting the weeds, do the foliar spray and water them once a day when it is dry. They are not easily affected by diseases if you plant certified seeds," Kagai said.
   Nakuru County Director of Agriculture Leonard Ochieng says farmers are permitted to market their produce elsewhere outside the country as long as they meet all the export requirements.
   "There are no limits to farmers in exporting their produce with the aim of selling it but they must be operating within the laws that regulate the marketing of the produce and have all the licenses that permit their exportation," Ochieng said.
   As a government, the agricultural officer says they encourage farmers to form Saccos to ease the process of marketing their produce.
   "It is more profitable and easier to sell their produce in bulk as an organized Sacco than as an individual. These reduces the losses made during the selling process and hence increase their profits," Ochieng added.
   However, Samuel Gitonga, the chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural of Producers, says lack of formal marketing strategy and enforceable agricultural policies regarding packaging remains a major obstacle in farming in Kenya.
   "We are engaging the national and county governments to ensure that they come up with standardized packaging and establish wholesale marketing stalls at strategic points across the country including along the borders to help farmers sell their produce to local and regional consumers," noted Gitonga. (Xinhua)