“Green bean farming helps the community in lots of ways. In the past the produce buyers were only interested in the quality and safety of the beans. But now we have a partnership with a European company and they’re really interested in the quality of the land and the life of the community, as well as the quality of the beans and peas.”
Anthony Mucheke has set up a green bean farm in Kenya. Farmers like Anthony are often vulnerable to market fluctuations and making enough money to support their families can be tough. But, thanks to the UK aid funded Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH), Anthony’s farming business has a bright future.
From African fields to UK shelves
The goal of the £1.9 million challenge fund is to reduce poverty in Africa by improving the income of the rural poor. FRICH awards grants to groups of UK businesses to encourage investment in African supply chains and to get more African produce onto shop shelves.
Each proposal has to demonstrate how it will benefit the livelihoods of African smallholders and the economy of their lcoal communities. And the UK businesses involved in the bids match any funding awarded by the scheme.
One successful bid came from a group of companies led by Waitrose which wants to source environmentally sustainable fruit and vegetables. Supported by a £200,000 grant from FRICH, the project is helping farmers like Anthony learn about sustainable agriculture, improve their yields and increase the income they earn from their crops.
“Some of us are young, some of us have retired from other businesses and have come back with a little money to invest in farming,” he says.
“With the support we are getting - on growing and advice on inputs - and the new demonstration farm that has been set up nearby, we are confident that we will make it. There are not so many chances in life so when you get one you can take it firmly with both hands.”
In 2007 Waitrose asked all their international suppliers to meet the same environmental standards of production as UK farmers. But smaller scale farmers in Africa could have struggled to reach this standard, known as the LEAF Marque, without a lot of training and encouragement.
Supported by the FRICH grant, Waitrose is working with LEAF and the fresh produce supply chain to help African growers like Anthony achieve the environmental standards needed to get their produce into UK stores.
Demonstration farms are being set up that showcase best agricultural practice. And field agronomists are on hand to explain sustainable methods of production, prevent pest and disease problems and demonstrate ways to manage precious resources like soil and water efficiently.
Edwin Kakundi is an advisor who works closely with hundreds of farmers. He has already seen the positive impact that the project is having:
“Since this project began just a few months ago we are already noticing improvements in yields and that is because farmers are really taking good care of the soil, which means they get a healthy crop, less prone to attack by pests or diseases,” he says.
“They are also developing a close relationship with the retailer in the UK who is interested in supporting good agricultural practice and buying from these farms for years to come. That security is something farmers have not had before… I’ve seen farmers achieve economic growth and improve their lives.”
Inform and inspire
So far the project has been successfully piloted with three groups of farmers in Kenya. In order to inform and inspire others to do the same, ten short films are being produced that capture sustainable farming techniques in action.
In two years time all the materials - and lessons learned - will be rolled out across sub-Saharan Africa to other countries with smaller scale farmers who supply Waitrose including Zambia, Tanzania, Senegal and Burkina Faso.
In the meantime the stories of farmers like Anthony are being shared with UK consumers so the hard work and determination of African farmers is appreciated and the link between trade and development can be understood.
In the Kirinyaga area of Kenya’s central region, growing sustainably-produced fruit and vegetables provides a stable livelihood for farmers like Anthony and their families. And this regular income means that farmers can invest in local facilities for their communities.
Farmers involved in the project want better local health care. So they decided to put aside a small sum from every kilo of beans they sell into a producer group fund, known as the Waitrose Foundation fund. KHE, the company which exports their beans, has funded construction of new clinic buildings and now the community has decided to use its producer fund to buy equipment.
A small, under-resourced and over-stretched clinic is being transformed into a well-staffed and well-equipped health centre. The labour ward is built, medical equipment has been bought and the community is excited about the prospect of good medical care.
“As farmers we are bringing wider benefits to the communities like the health centre we are contributing to,” explains Anthony.
“There is no other industry here. No-one will build a factory here. But farming for export and for the local market can bring development. We just needed the help to get it going.”
The bigger picture on global partnerships
Concluding the Doha Development Round - which aims to lower trade barriers around the world - is crucial if we are to meet Millennium Development Goal Eight. It is the single biggest step we can take to help the poorest countries in the world trade their way out of poverty.
Twenty first century development is about much more than aid. Ultimately it is wealth creation, private enterprise and jobs which will lift people out of poverty. External aid is a means to an end. Creating conditions where the private sector can flourish, where small business have access to finance, where international trade agreements propel economic growth in poor countries, is what development today is about.
Many poor people in developing countries - as many as 7 out of 10 people in Africa - rely on agriculture for a living. Projects like FRICH help Anthony and other smallholder farmers participate in and benefit from international supply chains. In this way they can lift themselves out of poverty in a economically sustainable and dignified manner.
The Waitrose consortium group is a partnership between UK farming charity LEAF, communication specialists Green Shoots Productions and African fresh produce suppliers Blue Skies, Wealmoor, Sunripe, British and Brazilian and Waitrose with the support of UKaid’s FRICH fund.