Kalumu Nzumi knows how to grow mangoes. In fact, she is very good at it, even though she still gets surprised by the amount of money she earns in a given season. That’s because six years ago, she did not produce anything she could sell; she would plant maize but it would not do well because of several factors including low rainfall and poor soils.
Today, Kalumu has a reason to smile. In a given season, she earns between $500-800, and last season she earned about $750 from mangoes alone. Kalumu, who lives in Kitui County in lower Eastern part of Kenya, sells her mangoes to Kitui Enterprise Promotion Company Limited (KEPC), a company that processes mango juice, mango powder, mango flakes and mango fortified flour. Before KEPC was established, mango farmers did not have a reliable market, and because mangoes are perishable, farmers were forced to sell them to local traders at throwaway prices, and many of the mangoes rotted. KEPC is a social enterprise company that promotes mango farming among poor women in Kitui, with the aim of increasing incomes and improving livelihoods. Founded in 2012, KEPC works through a cooperative that buys mangoes directly from farmers, and ensures that there is a ready market.
The East Africa Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) has been working with KEPC since 2014, building its capacity to grow its business, and in the process, support mango farmers in Kitui. The F2F program, funded by USAID and implemented by Catholic Relief Services, leverages expertise from US citizens skilled in business, agriculture, and food processing, to help grow small scale farmers and entrepreneurs.
Like many social enterprises, KEPC started small, but because of continued support from F2F, it has grown to become a significant mango processor in the region, says Crack Munyao, the Managing Director of KEPC. Crack requests volunteers based on a particular need, he says, and since 2014, the company has received four volunteers who have helped in improving the quality of mango juice, developing and launching a sale and marketing plan for its products, and building the company website. Through offering improved agronomic practices, the company has helped to increase yields and improve quality of mangoes it sources from farmers.
Kalumu says that she has become an expert at trapping fruit flies. Because of the knowledge she acquired from a Farmer to Farmer volunteer Dean Wheeler. She doesn’t spray her mangoes with insecticides to kill the flies, and instead traps them using organic methods that aren’t costly or damaging to the environment. As a result, she is producing mangoes that are much bigger with skin not damaged by insects, making them more marketable to the cooperative.
Until recently, KEPC struggled with marketing its products. As a start-up company introducing new products, KEPC needed multiple resources including marketing staff, which it couldn’t afford to hire. KEPC requested a marketing expert from the Farmer to Farmer Program, and in March 2017 they received a volunteer who worked with staff members to develop a marketing strategy and a campaign plan to increase their sales. He also helped them in developing a five-year marketing plan the company will use to boost its sales
“Before the F2F marketer worked with us, we were selling less than 10 cartons of juice per day, but now we distribute more than 30 cartons, and have increased our distributors around Kitui County,” Crack says.
The company is in the process of diversifying its products, and will start processing passion fruit and pineapple juices as well. “This will also allow farmers to venture into territories that will earn them more income,” Crack says.
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