This past January, the focus of our trip to Kenya was to find a buyer to purchase maize on behalf of the farmers of Mt. Elgon. We unexpectedly found ourselves in a meeting with a government organization called Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA). They deal in all crops EXCEPT maize. We were asking ourselves, “Why are we in this meeting if they don’t deal with maize?” We were about to find out!
James with HCDA begin to talk to us about “high value crops”. He said high values crops are crops that have a huge demand in the European markets. He said that Mt. Elgon is particularly good for growing Sugar Snaps, Snow Peas and Purple Passion Fruit. The demand for these crops is so high, Kenya is unable to supply it. We discovered that Sugar Snaps, Snow Peas and Passion Fruit will earn farmers 10x what they make a year from selling maize!
Our next step was to present this to the farmers to see if they were willing to learn a new way of farming. We had a “town hall meeting” and let them know we would continue to look for a buyer for maize (which we did find one) or we could put that on hold and invest our efforts and resources in helping the farmers sell these high value crops in Europe. Because all these farmers know is maize, we were not sure of the response we would get. We had James from HCDA with us, the Ministry of Agriculture and the area Chief. It never hurts to bring the experts with you when you present a new idea! The response we received from the farmers was an overwhelming yes in pursuing high value crops! In April, 2014 Fruited Plains received its export license from HCDA of Kenya!
We just returned to Kenya this past July. Our amazing Fruited Plains team has spent countless hours organizing farmers and getting them prepared for an entire new way of doing farming. We are currently working with over 300 farmers that will go through Global GAP training (Good Agricultural Practices) as a necessary step in order to sell to markets in Europe. Our goal is to begin giving seeds for planting in March of 2015. Fruited Plains also has a certified Passion Fruit nursery where we will be able to give seedlings to the farmers to grow. We also have a demo plot where they will be trained on how to successfully grow this labor intensive fruit. Although there is much to do in order to get this export business up and running, and the initial expense is high, the potential rewards are great. Not only will farmers earn 10 times the amount they have ever made, Fruited Plains will be a sustainable organization!
The Vice President of Kenya, Honorable William Ruto visited our organization. We had the opportunity to meet with him and share what Fruited Plains is doing to assist the farmers of Mt. Elgon. He turned to the local governor and told him 3 times, “You need to work with these people so they can do more to help the people of Mt. Elgon.” You better believe we will be following up with the governor! Deputy President Ruto looked at Mike and I and said, “Fruited Plains is a blessed organization.” We would agree!