Soya Bean farming untapped
Elizaphan Gichangi is a small scale soya bean farmer in Embu County.
Until 2012, Gichangi was among farmers in the County who recorded heavy losses as middlemen exploited them.
Many farmers abandoned the legume farming and ventured into other economic activities that were relatively free of manipulation by brokers.
For Gichangi despite the challenges, he never quit, but instead devised new ways of surviving and as well record profits.
Today, Gichangi is a happy farmer. For the last five years, he has been undertaking value addition of soya beans. Currently, the farmer is now selling soya beans products in the entire Embu County, expanding the market to the neighbouring Kirinyaga County.
This is over and above participating in local trade fairs in various counties around the country to showcase the product.
Though Gichangi refers himself as a jua kali player since he had no training on how to enrich the crop, he says his entry into value addition business is paying off.
Although he started small scale using a jiko in his backyard where he used to roast the beans to make soya flour, Gichangi has now invested in new machinery thus increasing production.
Unlike other farmers who are contracted by companies to grow the crop on their behalf, Gichangi earns more than Sh.180 per kilogram of processed soya bean products.
He established a value addition centre in Embu County, a facility that has enabled him to produce significant products that are in high demand. His wife is in charge of selling the products and other grains to customers.
“I am not able to meet the demand of soya beans products. But I am still progressing and hopes soon I will be able to realise the dream,” he added.
Gichangi 40 produces 800 kilograms of raw soya beans from his one acre farm and purchases a similar quantity from 100 small scale farmers in the area that he has contracted.
He buys a kilogram of raw soya beans from farmers at Ksh.60 and spends another Ksh.60 more to process the beans to get various products such as soya drink and soya flour. Further, he mixes the flour with other flour produced from other pulses such as millet and sorghum used for porridge making. He sells his products at a minimum of Ksh.300 for a kilogram.
“Like majority of farmers, I used to sell raw soya at Ksh.50 for a Kg to the middlemen. This was more difficult to earn owing to presence and manipulation by intermediaries in the market. But there were some farmers who were earning an extra income in that situation as they were doing little processing. I equally started in small scale and the returns were encouraging as the products were quickly taken up in the local markets,” he explains.
“I have been able to move from a rented house and bought a parcel of land, built a house and a small a cottage industry where I do the processing,” he confirmed
Soya beans are legumes known for high nutritional value and are easy to cultivate unlike other pulses.
Majority of farmers in the country have not embraced the crop preferring other grains mainly beans thus leading to low production in the country. It is mostly grown in the Western Kenya where most of the growers are contracted by big companies to grow on behalf.
According to agriculture Ministry demand for soya in Kenya is estimated at between 50,000 and 70,000 metric tons a year while production was at 10,000 metric tons last year and 5,000 metric tons in 2009.
Manufacturers like Bidco and Promasidor import soya from USA, Brazil and China — the world’s largest producers to meet demand.
Gichangi said value addition is big business yet to be exploited largely due to farmers’ lack of information and financial capability.
Increased awareness on the health benefits and nutritional value of soya bean has also seen improvements in the development of the soya bean sub sector.
“I used to process informally, but I got an opportunity in 2012 to be trained under a So Co project that was funded by AGRA to enhance productivity, certification, handling, packaging and marketing of Soybeans,” he added.
Further the project also introduced farmers on how to improve production of soya beans and climbing beans among households in Eastern Kenya.
“I am able to process the beans according to the standards thus enhancing acceptability of the products in the market. I never disappointed the management of SoCo as now I am able to respond to the market requirements,” he confirmed.
Having been able to acquire a significant space in the market within the Embu County and neighbouring counties, Gichangi stated that his next plan is to acquire modern processing machines to expand the business.
Lack of awareness has curtailed marketing of the products and farmers venturing into soya bean farming. This he said has affected efforts to contract more farmers. Further, cost of the value addition machinery is expensive and can only be imported.
In order to ensure that he is able to sell in formal retail outlets, Gichangi says that he is in the process of receiving the Kenya Bureau of Standards Certification which is a key requirement in the local market.
The government has been encouraging farmers countrywide to grow soya beans as huge volumes used locally are imported from Uganda, Tanzania and India to meet demand.
By Wangari Ndirangu