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Growing futures in the Elgeyo Marakwet hills

19 February 2019

Growing futures in the Elgeyo Marakwet hills

On an unbelievably steep hillside in the beautiful rolling hills of Elgeyo Marakwet in western Kenya, mother of seven Lucy Marani proudly shows off the neat rows of French bean plants that have transformed her family’s life.

While visitors struggle to keep their balance due to the incline, Lucy is steady on her feet and steady in her conviction that the new business approach she is taking to farming will continue to grow a brighter future for herself and her children.

Fittingly dressed in an elegant jacket that wouldn’t look out of place in a boardroom, Lucy explained that her family’s finances are secure for the first time since she started following a structured business plan on growing and marketing vegetables that are in high demand.  Lucy commented:

“Before I grew green beans here I grew a local variety of garden peas to sell to local markets. I farmed, but didn’t look for a market until the crops were ready. By the time I found a buyer, the crops would have rotten. Some went unsold and we would make losses.”

Now, her story is very different. Lucy only plants crops that she knows in advance she has a buyer for. Lucy is receiving support from Farm Africa as a part of an extension to the Growing Futures project, which was made possible by matched funding received from the UK Government, who matched donations made to the charity’s Growing Futures appeal.

The appeal, which ran from October 2017 to January 2018, raised a total of £410,000, enough to help a total of 2,000 farmers in Elgeyo Marakwet set up profitable horticulture businesses.   

The project helps farmers escape poverty by growing a variety of vegetables such as French beans, garden peas, mange touts, tomatoes and cabbages, and working together in groups to develop business plans and sell their aggregated produce in bulk. 

Lucy commented: “I have learnt from Farm Africa to manage my money. I have learnt about book-keeping, financial literacy, leadership, good governance and marketing. We have learnt from Farm Africa that you have to first find a market before you start to plant beans.”

The new approach has translated into a higher and more consistent income for her family, which is greatly benefiting her children, who are now able to attend school regularly.

Lucy continued:  “The project has changed my life. It has helped me very much to educate my children. I was excited about growing French beans because there was a market for them. I was excited to know I would be able to earn income to send my children to school.”

Lucy’s success has inspired her two oldest sons, Davis, aged 19, and Felix, aged 21, to also take part in the project, as she explained:

“French beans have taken me somewhere. I started small but have grown bigger. Farm Africa have trained me on so many things: how to budget, how to spray my crops, they even took me on a farmers exchange visit where I was able to learn from other farmers. I decided then to do serious farming. I have done it to the extent my children like it and they also practise it now. I have a son in college who through French beans is now paying his own school fees. I have another son who finished Grade 4 yesterday. Through his own sweat he will take himself to university. The two boys say come rain, come sunshine they will farm. They plan to build a new decent house.”

Davis and Felix are typical of participants in the project, whose core target group is young people aged between 18 and 35, at least 50% of whom will be women. The project aims to enable young people to create their own thriving careers in a market where job opportunities are few and far between.

The project’s location was selected due to its favourable and reliable climate for growing horticulture crops, its proximity to earlier stages of Farm Africa’s Growing Futures project in neighbouring Trans-Nzoia County, which are being funded by the retailer Aldi UK and the Medicor Foundation, and due to the low levels of support currently available for farmers in the region.