I was stranded and did not know where to get school fees for my children. Luckily, I had grown some Nyota beans on my one-acre land. When I harvested the beans, I took part of it to Abosi Cooperative. I’m happy the Cooperative came to my aid and bought the beans. I used the money I received to pay school fees. My child is now at Gorgor High School courtesy of beans. This is a testimony from Monica Chepngeno, a bean farmer in Gorgor Ndanai.

There is excitement in Gorgor, Ndanai Abosi Ward in the Bomet County of Kenya as men and women farmers deliver their beans to Abosi Top Hill Farmers’ Cooperative aggregation stores. It has been a successful season of learning about bean production and business. The farmers trickle into the Cooperative compound balancing baskets of beans on their heads, some in sacks on bicycles, motorbikes, animal-drawn carts, and pick-up trucks delivering their grains to the Cooperative aggregation. The season has been bumper!

Helen Keti Ruto, the Chairperson of Abosi Top Hill Farmers’ Cooperative, beams with satisfaction as she recalls how the journey started.

This is our first time to produce this much beans. Previously, we produced small volumes of beans often sold locally. This time, our two stores are full of over 100 bags of beans and we can afford to call in an offtaker with a 10-ton lorry to buy the beans!’ she explains as she guides the group members on how to grade, pack and load the sacks on the truck.

Abosi Top Hill Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited started as Abosi Vision 2030 in 2017 with the aim of supporting its members in agricultural production. At the time, Abosi Vision 2030 worked through Kaplomboi ROTU Cooperative Society. The transition to Abosi Top Hill Cooperative Society happened in 2020 when the group registered as a Cooperative with support from the Cereal Growers Association (CGA). The group had 85 members upon registration. The membership has grown to 150 of which 98 are women and the youth constitute 30 female and 17 male.

In 2019, the Alliance of Bioversity International & the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (the Alliance) through the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) conducted intensive awareness campaigns on the benefits of growing high iron and zinc beans. The campaigns were carried out in partnership with the Cereal Growers Association, the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), and the County Government of Bomet. as part of the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) project of the African Development Bank. A series of bean production demonstrations plots and field days were set up in various farmer fields in Bomet County. The farmers were taught how to access quality seed, manage their bean farms, and increase yield. The number of farmers growing the improved beans has been growing as more farmers recognize the good performance of the new bean varieties and the accompanying good agricultural practices.

In February 2021, Abosi Top Hill Cooperative purposed to engage in farming beans as a business. Gorgor in Ndanai/Abosi Ward was mapped as one of the production hubs in the wider Bomet Bean Corridor. A pre-season production planning and training meeting was facilitated by KALRO and PABRA. Farmers enrolled into production groups and strategized on how to access seed and inputs to invest in their farms. Throughout the season, the researchers from KALRO and PABRA, and producers engaged in regular interactions addressing any emerging challenges especially good agronomic practices such as identifying crop nutrient deficiencies, pest and diseases management, as well as post-harvest loss and handing.

Abosi Top Hill Cooperative farmers in the bean fields (Photo Courtesy of Boaz Waswa)

Abosi Top Hill Cooperative farmers in the bean fields (Photo Courtesy of Boaz Waswa)

Among the three new high iron and zinc beans (Angaza, Faida, and Nyota), the Nyota bean was selected because of its early maturity (about 65 -75days) hence capacity to escape droughts in case the rains stop. It is also within the red mottled class which has a huge market in East, West, and Central Africa. Faida another red mottled bean was selected because of its market acceptance and the attractive large size and weight for the market. Angaza was selected because of its high yields and tolerance to pests and diseases.

The group, through PABRA courtesy of project funding by the Global Affairs Canada and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) benefited from a donation of a motorized knapsack sprayer, tarpaulins for drying their harvest, hermitic bags for grain storage, and a motorized bean thresher to ease drudgery during threshing beans using sticks, especially among women. These items came in handy to support farmers producing the beans during these challenging times on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The farmers under the cooperative aggregated 15 MT of Nyota, 2.5 MT of Angaza, and 2 MT of Faida ready for sale. The beans were supplied by about 100 farmers.

Working in collaboration with HarvestPlus and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) under the Commercializing Biofortified Beans (CBC) project, linkages to a bean processor- SpiceWorld Limited – were facilitated. The farmers engaged in a negotiation leading to the offtaking of the first batch of 10MT of beans worth approximately Ksh. 1 million (USD 10,000). The village had never earned this amount of money before in a single transaction of bean sales.

Bean grain loaded in the truck for the market (Photo Courtesy of Paul Omollo)

Bean grain loaded in the truck for the market (Photo Courtesy of Paul Omollo)

The bean harvesting coincided with the schools opening, particularly the enrolment of students to secondary school. This is a time when parents are under extreme pressure to pay fees on admission. Of the farmers who supplied beans to the cooperative, 95% required the cash to pay for school fees.

I grew Nyota bean on an acre and harvested six bags. From the beans harvested, I set aside two sacks for home consumption and sold the other four to our Cooperative, and used the money to pay school fees for our child joining Form one at Boito Secondary School in Konoin Sub County. Jonah Ruto, a farmer in Gorgor, Bomet County shared.

Besides what ended up in the market, the farmers were also encouraged to eat the nutritious beans in their households for their own health. Currently, Bomet County has a very high malnutrition index in children under five relative to the national average. The prevalence of stunting in Bomet is 35.5%, underweight is 12% and wasting is 1.8% compared to 26% stunting, 4.3% underweight, and 3.7% at the country level. The farmers have reported varied eating preferences for the three bean varieties with the majority preferring Angaza for its good taste and palatability. Generally, all the three-bean varieties cook faster, are low in phytic acid and gas that causes bloating.

Farmers operating under cooperatives have recorded greater success in the bean production, aggregation, and marketing in Bomet. CGA has been at the forefront of farmer organizations working closely with the County’s Ministry of Cooperatives.

Abosi Top Hill Cooperative believes in the foundation of trust, transparency, and participation by the members, especially in the group’s decision-making. This was well exemplified in how the group members were fully engaged in the entire production to marketing cycle supporting one another with guidance from the management committee within the group.

It has not been an easy journey for the cooperative. Helen points out some of the challenges they faced and how they resolved some.

In the beginning, the cooperative did not have storage facilities for the grain harvested. The leadership moved quickly to improvise storage and aggregation facilities.

“We thank CGA and Kaplomboi ROTU Cooperative Society for providing us a temporary tent that we used as a storage facility. We also improvised two stores to serve as our aggregation points. With the projected increase in bean production in the coming season, we need support to upgrade and equip our storage facilities.” She adds.

Farmers supplying beans to the aggregation points often need immediate cash to meet their personal demands. As an upcoming Cooperative, limited working capital-constrained their overall operations and in turn impacted the volume of beans they could aggregate. The cooperative relied on little savings and borrowed some cash from friends of the cooperative to pre-finance the grain purchase. Linking to financing organizations for a credit line and adopting Warehouse Receipt System could help the cooperative overcome this challenge of financial liquidity.

Appreciating the linkages to markets facilitated by HarvestPlus and GAIN, the cooperative recommended building long-term relationships with offtakers with prior purchase commitments. Contract farming can help with mobilizing farmers for production for markets and also securing financing.

“The group thanks KALRO, CGAPABRA, and HarvestPlus for the training on producing and farming as a business and the various field follow-ups. The Cooperative needs more training in areas of farming as a business now that we are getting into serious bean production,” she notes.

“Rural communities can benefit a lot from the Cooperative Movement. It is a transformative agenda,” observed Dr. Richard Sigei, Chief Operating Officer, Cooperatives and Enterprise Development, Bomet County.

“Agriculture interventions require sustained investment and learning with the actors addressing the bottlenecks along the value chain. It also calls for building trust and strengthening relationships. These are the ingredients behind the success at Abosi cooperative.” Dr. Boaz Waswa, Researcher, PABRA.

As an upcoming cooperative, we are learning quickly how to walk. We are excited to see how this first trial has come out. It is proven that we can produce beans both for household consumption and for the market.” We thank all the partners who have stood with us. Our target is to double and produce at least 30MT of the high iron and zinc beans in the coming season,” she shared with optimism.

The experience of Abosi Top Hill Cooperative is a great learning success story on how by working together, bean farming can transform a whole community.

Feature image: Boaz Waswa, Justin Mabeya, Paul Omollo, David Karanja, Josey Kamanda, Eileen Nchanji, Patricia Onyango, and Owen Kimani

This story is originally published on PABRA Africa Blogs.

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