Jemima Ikalakala M’mayi is a farmer and the leader of the New Vision Community-Based Organization which focuses on African Indigenous Vegetables (AIV). Despite being labelled as ‘women’s items’, the local vegetables are full of nutrition and curative benefits and Jemima has seized the opportunity to uplift her fellow women through AIV farming.
I started becoming a farmer when I was a child. We didn’t have workers and we had a farm. So, we used to do farming with our parents throughout the year during the short rain and the long rain. So, I have been farming all my life, though I do other things. Specifically, I started farming local vegetables in 2012.
2012 was the time when the idea came of being serious farmers and having local vegetables. So, we mobilized and came together in September 2012 as a team. Then we followed all the procedures until we got registered officially in January 2013. We are working a long way since 2013 but we have been having some fall out of the group because of the hardship and challenges.
I became the coordinator because I was the vision bearer of the project about promoting local vegetable growing. I also had an idea of what a community-based organization is all about so I was directing and leading them, advising them on what to do. So, I automatically became the coordinating person.
120 farmers and those are self-help groups.
What makes me happy and proud is the community I am serving. They have a lot of trust in me, they believe in me, they support me, and they encourage me. Whenever we have a problem and we can’t do it well; they come in and support me where they can. So, it makes me happy and keeps me going.
Those local vegetables were there with us since childhood. But nobody has taken it seriously. They never told you to make a business. We didn’t use to sell those local vegetables. People just used to give to others for free. So, we started to make them economic items for interested people.
The community is impressed that local vegetables could be income-generating. At least every household has a type of vegetable that they rely on and has seeds. It helps us come out as a team because we are self-initiated and we don’t have outside support. So, we are bringing it from what we have and what we know. Then we link up with the Ministry of Agriculture, they started giving us technical knowledge on how to improve our products and how to handle the vegetables well for consumption.
Before we got the AgUnity app, we used to walk to the market to find out if somebody will buy our vegetables or not. So, you can waste your time and money if you go to the market and nobody will buy it. But now, before you start your journey, you use the phone you have, and you take a photo of the vegetables that you want to sell and put it on WhatsApp or send it to the person who maybe will buy, then they confirm. We agree on the prices so when you leave home you are sure, I am going to sell the vegetable to someone and agreed on the amount. You don’t need to walk to the market to try your luck, you just need to go when you are sure.
Secondly, we farmers do not keep records at all. But the app helps us to keep records. When you scan the code with the person you are selling to or you are buying from, the information comes to your phone. So, when you need to look at what you have done you can find the record.
Thirdly, we also know whether we are making a profit or a loss. If we were struggling in the market, we used to just sell as long as we could move the stock. But now, the app enables us to find out whether we made any profit or not.
Lastly, the app has given us a “we” feeling. People who have smartphones and use the AgUnity app – we are now like a family. We don’t look like opponents to each other. We work as a team. It has given us a “we” feeling, we feel like we are the AgUnity team.
We have two main challenges. First, since we initiated this venture ourselves, we don’t have a market that is reliable throughout the year. The scarcity of vegetables makes the price go up. But when the rain falls in long rain, everybody is harvesting because everybody at least has their vegetable. So, the market is not there. It will be good if we can get market throughout the year and we are sure that we can sell our vegetables. For example, 30 or 50 Kenyan Shillings per kilo throughout the year. Sometimes we sell 50 Kenyan Shillings per kilo and other times we sell only 15 Kenyan Shillings per kilo. There is also a time when we don’t receive money because nobody wants to buy the stock.
The second challenge is the community around us. We are in a developing country, and being in a developing country our household means the income is below one USD per day. Agriculture is expensive and you must produce quality, you must also sell so income-generating activities around the household give you a middle income.
We have an option although there are resources that we are required. We want to get a big solar dryer which helps us during the rainy season when we have a lot of vegetables. We can dry those vegetables, package them and sell them beyond Kakamega county. Moreover, the government also requires a lot of certifications, like from the Kenya Bureau of Standards. The certifications are expensive.
The local vegetables are for women, even if you come in this group, you find that the majority of our members are women. The local vegetable is labelled as the item of women. We wish to go far with it so that we can also feel like part of this nation, this African continent, and even the world. Moreover, the local vegetable itself has a nutrition aspect and curative aspect. We like to applaud taking it to women in Africa, treating people, and feeding people healthy food using our local vegetables. So, if we can go far with these two issues, we will be able to uplift other women. It will be our pride and we will be glad to stand with it. If we go along with it, men can’t fight us so much. That’s why the women do that because they say that it’s a women’s thing. So, we would like this women’s thing to be uplifted.