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Soy and entrepreneurship to uplift rural youth

A crop in demand, a buyer that will absorb everything you grow and a loan mechanism that enables you to keep your produce and wait for an opportune time to sell. Soybeans and Savings and Loan Groups are ingredients of a project that will change the lives of youth in Kirinyaga County in Kenya.

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Whereas the demand for soy has skyrocketed in Kenya, the production levels have remained virtually unchanged.  By 2015 Kenya was importing much more soy than it produces – when it should be perfectly capable of increasing its own production manifold. In Kirinyaga County farmers are being encouraged to diversify and start growing soy through the CARE project ’Youth Access Markets’ (YAM) which is funded by BESTSELLER FOUNDATION.

Tomatoes versus soybeans
Most farmers have been growing a handful of different crops before – of which tomatoes are the most popular. However, tomatoes have some significant disadvantages, says Mwende Kusewa, Food and Nutrition Security and Resilience Manager at CARE Kenya:


 “Tomatoes are prone to pests and require large amounts of pesticides, tomatoes are labour intensive and they are perishable which means that everybody will be selling at the same time during the harvest season forcing the price down. 

Soya on the other hand is a nitrogen fixing crop and therefore it generally improves the health of the soil, secondly it is not as labour intensive as the tomato, it does not need the same levels of pesticide and it is not a perishable crop. That means that once you harvest it if the prices are not good at that particular time you can stop and store your produce until the market prices have improved and then sell and get higher benefits.” 

In short – growing soy means less damage to the environment, less risk to the farm worker, more time to focus on other crops as well as a guarantee that the soybeans can be sold at the highest possible profit. The local farmers are cautiously optimistic about the results thus far.

Virginia Wakeo
One such farmer is 28 year old Virginia Wakeo. She farms on a ¼ acre piece of land situated just before the plains start to ascend and eventually turn into Mount Kenya. On this land she grows rice, maize, beans and lately she has started growing soybeans too.

She has completed grade 5 and worked for a couple of seasons as a human scare crow to keep migrating birds away from other farmers’ crops. After that she has been farming only – and she says that things are now going in the right direction. 

 Growing soy means less damage to the environment, less risk to the farm worker, more time to focus on other crops as well as a guarantee that the soybeans can be sold at the highest possible profit. 

Virginia explains that her main challenges as a farmer are the occasional lack of water as well as the quality of the soil. The soybeans can assist in restoring the level of nutrients in the soil to the benefit of all of her crops – if she practices crop rotation – and the guarantee of a profit from the sale of soybeans enables her to work more long term with investments in her farm. Investing in things such as a water pump for irrigation.

She is part of the Mwea Community Group – consisting of 18 young men and women – which serves as the focal point for training and distribution of the soy seed. In addition it is also a Savings and Loan Group that can help her invest in farming, buy input or take any other type of loan that she thinks might benefit her business. She can also choose to deposit part of her profit in the group and earn a dividend. With a guaranteed profit from the soybean she can start using a basic banking facility such as the Savings and Loan Group with minimal risk.

Markets – and learning how to use soya
CARE has entered into an agreement with a local company that processes soy – Soy Afric – which provides basic training on quality assurance for the farmers and in turn the company will buy the soy that the farmers produce at a fixed price.
In addition the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) will provide training and seeds for a handful of farmers selected to grow the basic seed for other farmers to grow.

In the first phase of the project some of the harvested soybeans have been sold to Soy Afric – ensuring a minimum profit for the farmers – while some have been kept for consumption at the household or sold at the local market.

However, even if soya can be an important source of protein and a substitute for meat, it is not a part of the traditional diet and therefore still needs to catch on with the local population. At the local market in Mwea Veronica Njeri has been selling soybeans for five years and she says that soya is not a bestseller – because people don’t know what to use it for, she adds. She does a ground version that she recommends for tea or porridge, but says that it would be very useful with more information about exactly what you can use soya for and what the health benefits are.

Next phase – growing the markets
Mwende Kusewa from CARE Kenya points out that the next phase of the project will look more closely at opportunities, challenges and gaps in local markets and try and get young people involved in setting up businesses. One focus could be on how to get the local population to eat more soya – and learn about the health benefits.

Says Mwende Kusewa: “At the end of the project we want to see an increased interest of youths in farming as a business. In addition we want to generate other opportunities for business in the community so that we make sure that our youths are more engaged because increasingly we are seeing youth coming out of schools but not getting any jobs. We want to be able to give them some kind of meaningful engagement where they are able to get an income.”