Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spili Cereal bank comes to the aid of small scale farmers.

By Bett Kipsan'g

Agricultural production and marketing by small scale farmers and especially inhabitants of the Arid and semi arid areas faces a myriad challenges. Good crop yields are as unpredictable and far apart as rainy seasons. Communities and development partners have devised interventions to reverse this trend.
The front view of the Cereal Bank
 In the year 2001, a noble idea to start a cereal bank in Sipili was borne.  A group of men meeting under the auspices of Catholic Men Association (C.M.A) came up with an idea to seek solutions to the perennial problem of hunger, food insecurity, poor food storage and lack of market access due to the presence of brokers. 

The idea would be to come together and put up a cereal bank with the membership open to all people, irrespective of social status, denomination, gender, political affiliations or religious believes.
‘‘Individual members should be 18 years and above and hailing from of Ng’arua and the neighboring divisions’’ said Joseph K. Mwati, the current cereal bank chairman adding that groups are also registered with them as corporate members. 

Stock of fertilizer inside the cereal bank.
 The idea was well received in the community with many residents registering to benefit from the new initiative. Today the bank boasts of a membership of 100 people, 73 Men and 27 women.
“They embraced the idea with enthusiasm and contributed Ksh 100 every month plus an additional ksh 500 as share capital,” the chairman said.

The group was registered with the ministry of gender sports and social services as a self help group. Members continued with their contributions and before long they had raised enough money to acquire a three acre piece of land where they built a mega permanent store known as Sipili cereal bank.
The store with a capacity of between 6,000 and 8,000- 90 Kilogram bags of cereals was built with the assistance of Ksh 0.6 million from the German embassy and Ksh 800,000 which had been contributed by group members at the time of building the store. 

“The construction was completed in the year 2002 at a total cost of Ksh 1.8million, which included member’s contribution in kind, like labour and time, amounting to Ksh 0.4m,’’ Mwati Said.
 The opperationalization of the facility was another task. ‘‘It opened the doors during a bad season when the harvests were poor,’’ he recalled. Members contributed six 90 Kg bags of maize each. Beans too had done poorly and they started with four kilograms only.

‘‘Our main objective in putting up of this storage facility was to fight famine and create a source of income through the sale of cereals by members’’ Mwati said. 

Currently, the cereal bank is working with other collaborators like non governmental organizations, ministry of agriculture and other development partners to Increase production of cereals in the area.

This happens through stocking of certified seeds not only for members but also for the general community. For the last two years the bank has assisted hundreds of farmers to acquire government subsidized fertilizer. This year 2012, the bank acquired 560 bags of 50 Kgs fertilizer worth Ksh 1.6m. This would not have been possible without the assistance of a non-profit organization; Agricultural Cooperative Development International – Volunteers in Oversees Cooperative Assistance (ACDI-VOCA). 

‘‘It was not an easy task to get the subsidized fertilizer. We tried Nyahururu, went to Nairobi and found none and that is when we got a tip that the commodity was available in Embu. ACDI-VOCA intervened by paying a one way trip for the fertilizer from Embu to Sipili. We are grateful,” the cereal bank chairman said.
The landing of fertilizer in the cereal bank was a great relieve to eager farmers who have prepared their farms and are acquiring planting materials before the onset of the long rains in March and April. 

Mwati said that the struggle to source the fertilizer from Embu, was catalyzed by well placed sources indicating that subsidized fertilizer were out of stock in the government stores and that the next shipment would only land in the country by early May. That would spell doom to farmers since they would be late in planting and therefore standing a great risk of getting poor yields. 

The bank buys cereals when the prices are low and then stores them until prices increase when they then sell posting huge profits to the benefit of the members. The initiative discourages middlemen who exploit farmers by buying farm produce at low prices only to resell the same at double or triple the prices.
Members of the cereal bank plans to source for good quality planting materials from trusted companies and organizations. Unsuspecting farmers in the area were last year exploited by unscrupulous business people who sold them fake maize seeds which they planted only to reap poorly.

 Word has it that unscrupulous traders use paint to color fake seeds to make them look certified before  packing it in bags and papers printed in renown seed companies packages before selling the same to unsuspecting farmers.

The farmers then end up getting poor yields therefore negatively affecting their food situation besides the economic status of the area and the country at large. The group is presently faced with a challenge of deficiency in its operating capital. ‘‘After the completion of the store, our funds reduced drastically with the current operating capital being Ksh 400,000 only’’ Mwati said.

 In spite of that, Sipili cereal bank has big plans; to start value addition of cereals, by sipping, grinding and packing in order to fetch higher prices. This will enable the group to earn from the ‘opportunity cost’ increasing income through the sale of the by-products, used as animal feeds. They look forward to acquire machinery through members’ savings, profits and support from well wishes.

 ‘‘As farmers, we are very grateful to well wishes like the ACDI-VOCA for their timely assistance in delivering the fertilizer. We can now prepare adequately and take advantage of the long rains to produce crops to the desired quantities.’’ said Mwati.
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