About five years ago, an acre in Gitegi village in Central Kenya would sell for Kshs. 50,000 (USD 547.29). That same piece of land now sells for Kshs. 700,000 (USD 7,662.00). In addition, it was very hard to find a buyer for the land five years ago. Now, the land is not only on high demand, but also scarce. The present case is a result of what has widely come to be known as the onion revolution attributed to Farm Concern International’s (FCI) efforts under the Domestic Markets Regional Programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The village has also seen rural to rural migrations from Murang’a and Embu, about 85 and 74 kilometres away respectively.

Villagers from Gitegi who joined Commercial Villages joined hands with FCI in propagating this commercialization revolution. “FCI came and introduced the idea of Commercial Villages to us. We started by forming several groups, until we had more than ten groups that now make up Gitegi Commercial Village,” Bernard Maina, the CV chairman said.

One of the first things FCI taught the farmers was to change from the open pollinated varieties to hybrid seeds. Before FCI training, one acre would produce 1 tonne but now produces up to 10 tonnes.  The group’s target is to get 15 tonnes per acre. Hybrid onions have benefits such as uniform maturity, short maturity, well-sealed neck, extended shelf life, dark red colour, and high density.

To ensure effective governance in Gitegi Commercial Village formed committees such as savings, welfare, production and marketing. Each committee has a chairperson and a secretary. In addition to FCI’s trainings on the functions of each committee, the group relies on members’ past experience in order to place members in particular committees. For example, those who have dealt with markets are in the marketing committee. 

Members who have been saving advised the rest on the importance of saving and how to save. FCI linked the group to Taifa Sacco, educated them on the importance of saving for the future, and they now have separate accounts as well as a joint savings account. The group currently has saved Kshs 2,000,000 (USD 23,529). 

The group keenly scrutinizes those who would be interested in joining the group. The first thing is to establish if the person is from the local area, as well as the individual’s background. The chairman then shares discipline procedures and by-laws that govern the commercial village. If the person accepts, then they pay the registration fees and obtain membership. 

To ensure effective governance in Gitegi Commercial Village, FCI facilitated formation of committees such as savings, welfare, production and marketing. Each committee has a chairperson and a secretary. In addition to FCI’s trainings on the functions of each committee, the group relies on members’ past experience in order to place members in particular committees. For example, those who have dealt with markets are nominated to serve in the marketing committee. 

FCI trained members on financial literacy and members who had been saving advised the rest on the importance of saving. FCI linked the CV to Taifa Sacco who educated them on the importance of saving for the future, record keeping and they now have individual accounts as well as a joint savings account. The group currently has saved Kshs 2,000,000 (USD 23,529). 

During planting and harvesting time, the group uses a balloting system to come up with the order to support each other to plant, harvest and hire labour. When they need to buy seedlings and inputs, they put together the money and buy collectively, enabling them to get good prices. 

According to Mr. Gerald Watoro, Senior Programmes Manager-Markets and Trade, Mt. Kenya Hub, FCI has learned that once you unlock commercialization for farmers, the work is sustainable. 

“We have seen more seed companies bring hybrid seed to this area, which means planting and selling of hybrid onions will be sustainable in Gitegi village even after the Programme comes to an end,” he said. 

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FCI VISION : To have commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond