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Q&A with Julius Marete, Coordinator of Farm Africa's Growing Futures project, funded by Aldi UK

27 July 2020

Q&A with Julius Marete, Coordinator of Farm Africa's Growing Futures project, funded by Aldi UK

We spoke to Julius Marete, Coordinator of Farm Africa’s Growing Futures project, on how, with funding from Aldi UK, Growing Futures is changing the fortunes of farmers living in western Kenya.

Tell us about yourself

I am passionate about farming. I am an agribusiness graduate with over 16 years of professional experience in agronomy and engagement with rural communities producing crops and rearing livestock for local and export markets.

I have worked for Farm Africa for nearly six years: for three years I worked on livelihood diversification through the sorghum and green grams project in Kitui, before starting work with the Growing Futures project in November 2017.

How do you feel the Growing Futures project with Aldi has made a difference?

Since time immemorial, maize production has been a valued value chain for both domestic consumption and source of income in western Kenya.

However, changing weather patterns, poor soil nutrition management, poor market strategies and the withdrawal of national government purchases of maize have compromised the productivity, profitability and income sustainability of maize production.

Farm Africa’s interventions funded by Aldi UK have changed the fortunes of farmers through the introduction of vegetable production for both local and export markets.

Training on agronomy, agribusiness, market linkage, compliance and contract farming has enabled the farmers to make informed decisions as to which enterprise to venture into.

Linkages to different value chain actors have further eased the environment of doing agribusiness through the supply of inputs, access to finance to support farming businesses, market identification and strategising. This has seen a rapid growth of vegetable production in the region and sustained cash flow from the proceeds of the vegetables sales.

Due to this cash flow, we have seen continuous schooling for children, which previously was difficult due lack of school fees. There is improved nutrition due to the availability of a variety of vegetables and increased spending power.

What’s the best thing about your role?

The best thing about my role is I encounter first-hand the challenges that farmers are facing by virtue of working with them one on one, and thus must be up to date with the latest technical, market and linkages interventions. This calls for continuous research into useful information that will satisfy the needs of the farmers we work with in different agribusiness fields.

Describe a typical day working on Growing Futures

My day normally starts at 8:30am when I report to work and check on correspondence. I leave for the field by 9:30am and start training by 10am, which takes around two hours per session. Afterwards, I engage the farmers in any technical backstopping interventions.

I break for refreshment at around 1:30pm as I prepare for the afternoon session with a different group. The session will also take a duration of two hours and then leave for office by 4:30pm. On arrival I will check on any correspondence that requires immediate action. When through, I leave for my residence to rest and refresh for the following day’s activities.

What is your proudest moment working on the project?

My proudest moment on the project is seeing the transformation of the beneficiaries in terms of economic empowerment, health improvement and advancement in social economic activities.

What is your favourite part of the project?

My favourite part of the project is building the capacity of farmers by offering training, market linkages and technical support.

Why is the project focused on helping young people?

Young people comprise 75% of the population in Kenya. Youth unemployment in the country stands at 39%. By targeting young people, the project is creating self-employment opportunities for not only young people in rural areas but also other value chain actors.

Secondly, by engaging young people, the project will help reduce the crime rate and social injustices associated with unemployment, and will contribute to the growth of the economy through agribusiness.

How has the project been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Initially the COVID-19 pandemic affected the project negatively for both local and export markets. Upon announcement of the first case in Kenya, all flights were suspended, thus crushing export markets due to lack of transportation means for the produce. This led to farmers incurring huge losses.

At the same time, the national government imposed several restrictions on movement, assembly and social gatherings that led to the closure of most eateries, crushing the market for the local vegetables.

Due to the restrictions on movement, acquisition of farm inputs and delivery of farm produce to the few market outlets that were available were further affected, causing more losses.

However, since cargo planes and food supply vehicles have been allowed to resume operations, the market bounced back with huge demand for farm produce commodities, which were scarce due to crops being neglected and the high demand for food. This further ignited rise of the food prices, enabling farmers with produce available to recoup some of their losses.

Restrictions on movement and assembly also meant we could not meet the farmers to offer technical support and training. However, now that groups of up to 15 people can assemble, we are formulating ways to ensure we reach all the beneficiaries through training in smaller groups.

How does the project help young farmers to protect the environment?

The project has extensively trained the farmers on conversation measures, safe and responsible use and disposal of plant protection products, agroforestry and how to conduct environmental, land and pollution risk assessments.

The trainings and mitigation measures are aimed at avoiding irresponsible production systems and overburdening the environment with agricultural waste.