It is no secret that young people are apathetic to agriculture. Many simply do not see farming as a viable career or livelihood path. However, for Wambua Kioko, the story is different. While growing up in Imale, Makueni County, he was distressed to see mango farmers count losses and decided to do something about it.
He witnessed this problem firsthand as a farmer and mango buyer in the local market.
“The mango is native here. However, I saw how middlemen would exploit smallholder mango farmers by degrading their produce so as not to meet the international market threshold,” he says, adding that this meant mangoes flooding the market, precipitating a sharp drop in prices.
The mango trees like full sun and they hate cold weather. They need well-drained soil to thrive and they don’t like excessively wet conditions. A good harvest optimally prefers dry weather before and during the springtime bloom. And Makueni county is an ideal place.
Wambua Kioko, 31, was determined to find a solution to this problem. So, in 2019, he founded There For You Enterprise, a company that markets and add value to mangoes.
”I started the company to empower rural smallholder farmers by enabling them to produce better quality produce, add value and market them to local and international food distributors and retailers at very competitive prices,” he says.
His firm aggregates small-scale farmers and provide them with training on horticultural crops, pre- and post-harvest handling skills, pests and diseases control and general agronomy.
“We also support farmers throughout the production process and link them to inclusive and affordable agricultural finance and organic farm inputs,” says Kioko who is an AgriBiz client.
After buying the produce from farmers, Kioko hopes to add value through solar drying, packaging and marketing them in the local and international markets.
“I am hoping that the partnership with KCIC through the Agribiz programme, I will be able to set up a facility by November.”
“There For You has so far on-boarded 200 farmers, whom we are currently training and come January when the mango season is high, will see a bountiful harvest,” adds Kioko who holds a degree in Sociology from Egerton University.
Their products include fresh mangoes, solar-dried mangoes and hopes to expand to other products such as vegetables and horticultural plants.
“We provide local farmers free training and production support that is aimed at improving the quality of farmers’ produce including providing organic pesticides to help them eliminate fruit fly and other pests and diseases,” he says.
The startup, he notes, has enabled farmers to increase their yield, improve quality of their produce, avoid middlemen and access ready market. “Through value addition activities, Kioko hopes to also cushion farmers from losses they would have incurred due to brokers rejecting their produce. Previously, the farmers were losing an average of 50 percent of their produce to post-harvest losses, and this is what we are addressing,” he adds.
To boost his skill set, Kioko has partnered with several organizations as well as engaged in projects that equip him with the necessary skills.
“I have been a trainer on different topics since I finished school. But I enjoy working with the farmers since my experience with Premier foods and KARRI as a change agent in my community,” Kioko whom most farmers refer to him as ‘Mwalimu’ said. The enterprise’s vision, Kioko says is to increase production capacity and expand operations across all mango producing counties in Kenya before venturing into East Africa. “We plan to set up solar-powered cold storage hubs across Eastern Africa, targeting farmers and small scale market traders, to cushion farmers from post-harvest losses of fresh farm produce in the local markets,” he adds.
However, Kioko notes that the journey is not without its share of challenges. He says sometimes it’s not easy for farmers to adopt new practices and needs one to be very patient. He is still on a journey to make farming easy and profitable.
The proud trainer hopes to work with 3,000 farmers by 2021and in the future set up his consultancy farm to maximize farmers produce.
When Kioko is not training farmers, he plants trees as he is passionate about the environment and hopes to create a sustainable planet for future generations.