Self-help group promotes traditional crops

A farmers’ group providing nutritious leafy vegetables is gaining a reputation in their community and beyond  

Walatsi Locational Self-Help Group members showcasing locally grown African leafy vegetables from their farms in Busia County

Assisted by Small Grants Initiative funding, piloted by Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and supported by the Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE) project, a number of enterprising food producers in the region of Busia County, Kenya, are finding deserved success

Back in 2019, in a remote area of Busia County, Kenya, some smallholder farmers came together to establish the Walatsi Locational Self-Help Group. Their ambition? To supply markets with a reliable source of nutrient-rich, locally grown African Leafy Vegetables (ALVs) while improving their income levels and savings through the selling of surplus vegetables and the provision of loans to members.

Despite their enterprise and hard work there were, however, times when the farmers involved doubted if it would be possible to make a decent living from growing ALVs. That began to change when they attracted funding from the Small Grants Initiative piloted by SFSA and supported by the Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE) Project. Theirs was one of five groups in the region which were chosen to take part in this initiative, which began in September 2022, the aim of which was to supply grants to enterprises focused on increasing production of poultry and ALVs.

Besides providing funding for the purchase of seeds and manure, the Small Grants Initiative has supported training, meetings to sensitise communities as to the importance of ALVs, and field follow-ups by group officials and the agricultural extension officer. Group member Charles Musingu adds that “we have been able to increase the total land production up to 3.5 acres and hope to double that in the coming rain season.” Furthermore, Charles says that membership of the group enables him to pay for his children’s school fees.

With the support of NICE, the Walatsi Self-Help Group has established strong agronomic practices – both on-farm and post-production – including integrated pest and water management and improvements to soil fertility. These practices have underpinned their ability to provide intense ALV production all year round, while maintaining ecological integrity in the face of various challenges: after initial difficulties in sourcing quality seed, the group now have access to clean seed for ALV plants such as black nightshade, spider plant, and crotalaria; they hope to integrate irrigation technologies to combat the threat of drought, particularly for the offseason production when streams and springs are most likely to dry up; additionally, local roads are in poor condition and transportation costs can be high, with the group often relying on motorcycles to convey goods to market. However, it is hoped that the construction of a new road connecting Mungatsi, Kocholia, Amkura, and Machakusi will help resolve issues of timely supply.

Magdalene Musembi , a member of the Walatsi Locational Self Help Group tendering to the African leafy vegetables growing on her farm in Busia County

Growers of ALVs can be faced with another type of challenge – that of how to promote them to city populations. Although these crops have undoubted nutritional value and are a familiar feature in the diets of local communities, urban dwellers often prefer vegetables with a shorter preparation time. For the urban young, in particular, the appeal of fast food is increasingly an additional lure. Nevertheless, the future of ALV consumption and distribution looks to be a positive one: the Walatsi Group are now established as key distributors of leafy vegetables, with weekly orders coming from two local schools (St Joseph Musokoto Secondary School and St Peter Musokoto B Primary School).  Within the community, the organization has a reputation for good agronomic practice and an ability to tap into structured markets (schools, hospitals, etc.), as well as providing a source of casual labor for local youths.  “The community now knows us and, at the county level, we are seen as a mentor group,” remarks their secretary, Boniface Wesonga. This reputation is a welcome boost to the Walatsi Locational Self-Help Group’s confidence as they consider branching out to poultry production and perhaps even to future involvement in urban agronomic technologies (providing a modern take on agronomy practices which make the most of restricted urban spaces).