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Kenya: How UNCTAD helps Small-Scale Farmers

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Christine King’ola is a small-scale farmer who lives in Taveta town on the Kenya-Tanzania border and owns about two hectares of land, where she grows bananas and does dairy farming.

Her small-scale banana business was promising until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. With all the borders closed and the restrictions of movement, King’ola could no longer sell her bananas to neighboring Tanzania, causing them to rotten and her income to

“From June 2020, I couldn’t go out to sell my bananas,” King’ola said.

“What I had already consigned to the market was thrown away in my absence,” King’ola recalled. “I was disappointed and disheartened.”

Despite the Covid-19 crisis, she struggled to move forward.

“The pandemic pushed me to think about how I use the bananas from my farm,” she said.

“I realized it was too soon to give up. I was still determined to grow and thrive in business.”

She got an idea of how she could generate income by raising pigs and feeding them with bananas. With that, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of feeding her pigs and food loss.

She sold two of her low-yielding dairy cows and bought four pigs – one boar and three sows. She fed them with bananas and other products from her farm.

She was able to save the money she would have otherwise spent on commercial feed. She also got bananas from neighbouring farms for free. By December 2020, she had 21 pigs.

In June 2021, Covid-19 restrictions eased and cross-border trade between Kenya and Tanzania resumed.

King’ola’s banana business started to boom again. With bananas fetching higher prices, it was no longer cost-effective to use them to feed her pigs, so she sold all the pigs and refocused on selling bananas.

She gained confidence and decided to venture into new business opportunities.

In November 2021, she attended a workshop for cross-border traders, which was part of an empowerment project by the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) trade, gender, and development programme.

Equipped with knowledge gained from the training, she started selling maize and beans across the border, setting up a network of suppliers and buyers in and beyond her hometown to boost her small-scale farming.

King’ola said the UNCTAD workshop sharpened her entrepreneurial skills. She learned how to better estimate costs and profit margins and leverage market opportunities.

It empowered her to diversify the range of cereals beyond maize and beans, which boosted her income. It also improved her skills in keeping business and financial records and collecting information on suppliers and customers before embarking on a new business.

King’ola credited UNCTAD’s training with enhancing her understanding of customs rules and procedures, saying it “has made my business life easier.”

Previously, she used to sell the cereals through unofficial routes to evade taxes and duties, but she ended up incurring losses.

There were times when she had to pay bribes, lost consignments to porters, and dealt with fines and penalties when her goods were seized by customs officials.

“The training showed me that cereals can be traded between Kenya and Tanzania duty-free and the levies charged are not as high as other traders and I thought them to be,” she said.

Now her priority is safety and security. Official crossing routes provide a guarantee.

She also recognizes the importance of correctly filling out customs forms and declaring all goods, backed by her experience that truthful declarations have been met with fair assessments of the taxes and levies due.

Traders like her also have legal avenues to file a complaint if they find an assessment unfair.

“I am now more confident than ever in crossing the border to Tanzania and procuring goods there,” King’ola said.

“Because I have in-depth knowledge of my rights and obligations as a small-scale cross-border trader,” she added, “I trust that my business has a bright future.”

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