Elizaphan Gichangi is a small scale soybean farmer in Embu County.
Until 2012, Gichangi was among many other farmers in the County who were recording losses every other season as middlemen could buy the pulses at poor prices despite spending a lot to produce the same.
Many farmers abandoned the legumes farming and ventured into economic activities that are relatively free of manipulation of brokers.
For Gichangi despite the challenges, he never quit, but instead he devised new ways of surviving in the business and as well record profits.
Today Gichangi is a happy farmer who has for the last five years been undertaking value addition of soybeans over and above continuing farming. Currently, the farmer is now selling soybeans products in the entire Embu County and this year has started expanding the market in the neighbouring Kirinyaga County.
This is over and above participating in local trade fairs in various counties around the country to showcase the soybeans 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 small 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 big companies to grow the crop on their behalf, Gichangi earns more than Sh180 per kilogramme of processed soybean 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 soybeans products. But I am still progressing and hopes soon I will be able to realize the dream,” he added.
Gichangi 40, produces 800 kilogrammes of raw soya beans from his one acre land and purchases a similar quantity from 100 small scale farmers in the area that he has contracted.
He buys a kilogramme of raw soybeans from farmers at Ksh60 and spends another Ksh60 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. The Various products he develops from the soybeans , he sells them at a minimum of Ksh300 for a kilogramme.
“Like majority of farmers, I used to sell raw soya at Ksh50 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 industry where I do the processing,” he confirmed.
Soybeans are legumes known for high nutritional value and 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 tonnes a year while production was at 10,000 metric tonnes last year and 5,000 metric tonnes 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 of the soya beans is big business yet to be exploited but largely due to farmers’ lack of information and financial capability.
Increased awareness on the health benefits and nutritional value of soybean has also seen improvements in the development of the soy bean sub sector.
“I used to process informally, but I got an opportunity in 2012 to be trained under a SoCo 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 soy 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 neighboring 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.