Villages Commercialize for Market GainVillages Commercialize for Market Gain: East African smallholder farmers double grain revenue by selling as a village
The town of Mwegiki is a verdant farming village on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya. It is in the heart of the Kenyan bread basket, known for its fertile land and temperate climate - perfect conditions for growing agricultural products. Yet smallholder farmers in this area are not thriving and most sell their limited surpluses well below market value. As individual farming households, they lack the resources, storage, and quantity of product necessary to be competitive players in the regional agricultural market. To assist farmers to move away from subsistence livelihoods and towards more profitable commercial production, USAID's Competitiveness and Trade Expansion (COMPETE) program is promoting the use of the Commercial Village Store (CVS).
Commercial Village Stores are community bulking centers that depend on smallholder farmers agreeing to pool their resources together. This creates larger stores of high quality agricultural products that are directly marketed to buyers. The concept improves upon the traditional practice of individual farmers selling small quantities of goods to middle men who offer significantly lower prices. Each CVS consists of up to 500 households. USAID COMPETE is supporting 56 CVSs across Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda,Tanzania, and Zambia (representing around 130,000 individuals), with plans to roll out to Malawi and Ethiopia. Of the participating CVSs, 44 have demonstrated success by bulking as a community. The remaining 12 have embraced the concept and are waiting for the Tanzanian harvest season.
For CVSs to succeed, the town has to invest in the the idea. For this, Juliana Kaburia Jasper, a retired school teacher turned full-time community leader was indispensable. Together with USAID and Farm Concern International, Jasper introduced the goal of the CVSs and galvanized the community toward action. One of her first converts was a former student. Mugambi K. Mutituuri saw the wisdom of Jasper's community plan and immediately deposited seven 90 kilogram bags of grain into the village store. To Mutituuri, the logic of a CVS was obvious: "When I sold to middle men, I would get maybe 700 Kenyan Shillings per bag. Selling as a community, I can get twice that."
Mwegiki now has a large village store in the center of town. It is a hub of activity where grain is dried, weighed, and properly stored. Community members carry "Grain Savings Passbooks" to show how much they have contributed to the store and their projected earnings. As a commercial entity, the town of Mwegiki is negotiating with a buyer from one of Kenya's largest suppliers.
In Jasper’s words, USAID COMPETE and the CVS project are "changing the mindset of a community for an improved standard of life.”