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How Kenyan entrepreneurs are trading their way out of poverty

Families struggling by on just £2 a day are being given fresh hope thanks to the generosity of the British public, writes Mary Milne, Head of Campaigns and Communications at Traidcraft Exchange

Rising to more than 5,000 metres at its tallest point, Mount Kenya is covered with snow most of the year, despite being just a few miles from the equator. When I visited Kenya in April, it was mostly hidden behind a thick layer of cloud, only emerging for fleeting moments in all its majesty.

The slopes around the extinct volcano are lush and fertile – in theory, the perfect land for farming. What’s more, fresh vegetables – onions, potatoes, carrots and so on – grow well here, and find a ready market among the growing middle classes in Kenya’s cities.

Despite this, many of the people who farm in this area still struggle to make ends meet. In the Meru County region, 70% of farming households live in poverty, with many families surviving on just £2 a day.

But it’s not for a lack of hard work, talent or determination that so many in this region are unable to earn a good living. Far from it.

Last year, Traidcraft Exchange launched our ‘Hidden Entrepreneur’ appeal to support budding entrepreneurs in developing countries – people who have more than enough talent to earn a good living, but lack the opportunity. The generous British public raised an amazing £540,000, which was then matched pound for pound by the UK Government through its UK Aid Match scheme, bringing the total to more than £1.1 million.

Part of this money is being used to fund a new venture in Meru County, Kenya, where we will be working with mostly women who earn a living farming vegetables. I was fortunate enough to visit the project earlier this year.

While I was there, I met Chelegat, a vegetable farmer and mother of five. Chelegat lives in the village of Ngare Ngare, which is reached by driving through the Lewa Wildlife conservancy – home to the rare black rhino, and incidentally, where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton.

“I hope that if we come together – all of us as farmers – we will be able to have a voice in negotiations and begin to dictate how to sell,” she told me.

“Right now, I’ve invested a lot of money in seed, but what I grow doesn’t give me the return on my investments. I hope that through the project we’ll be able to tackle this.”

Seeds pose a problem for farmers in Meru County, since they are very expensive and sometimes don’t germinate. Another challenge is getting hold of enough agricultural inputs, such as organic fertiliser, to maximise their yields, which is why the project is supporting farmers to group together in cooperatives. By working as a collective, they will be in a stronger position to lobby and get hold of the services they need.

Chelegat’s sister and her sister’s child are both disabled. Now three years old, her child doesn’t talk and is unable to sit up. If Chelegat could earn more money from her farm, she would use it to give them proper medical care and take care of them both.

“I’m proud that through my work on the farm, I’ve been able to educate my children through school and college, and feed and clothe them as well,” she told me. “You should continue doing this because the project is helping so many people.”

The Hidden Entrepreneur appeal has now ended, but Traidcraft Exchange’s life-changing work with some of the world’s most vulnerable farmers, workers and artisans is far from over. To learn more, go to www.traidcraft.org.uk

PHOTOS: Chelegat on her farm. Photo credit: Traidcraft Exchange/Kevin Ouma

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