Name: Eunice K. Mwongera
Institution: Director, Hillside green growers and exporters
Fellowship: Norman Borlaug
Institution: Southern University, Louisiana
When Hillside was nominated to attend the Norman E. Borlaug program in 2009 (august 2009- September 24th) little did I know the scope of the programme nor the benefits that were envisaged. Given that our farming systems and structures differ with those of the small entrepreneur farmer in the United States one wondered what similarities there would be.
At the time, Hillside worked with about three farmers groups with a membership of about 75, in the growing of exotic vegetables and fruits for export. As we attended the program therefore, organizing the farmers to attain quality, consistency and to increase their production was a key objective for Hillside. How to write business plans for our enterprise as we continuously seek affordable financing was another goal that we looked forward to. We also desired to gain knowledge on how to carry a rewarding and profitable business and how to minimize costs and increase revenue. We desired to benefit from Networks and mentorship by visiting farmers in horticulture to see practically the farming systems in USA and how they function. I also desired to know how to expand Hillside to the next level, how to create lasting brands, and how value addition can be achieved in horticulture.
The eight weeks spent in Louisiana were an eye opener. It was a practical value adding course that equipped participants with skills and knowledge that could be directly transferred to their enterprises. As the CEO, my skills in entrepreneurship were sharpened as we interacted with well researched professors and lecturers who took time with us to pass on classroom based knowledge on our areas of need. Visiting the university laboratories where we interacted with students on practical assignments such as soil testing, water analysis, assembling simple irrigation structures enabled me to literally copy and paste some of the structures I saw to our farms. Today, Hillside uses the manure making methods learnt at Louisiana State University and their simple drip irrigation systems. This has increased our acre of farming from 35 to 70 hectares
In the last one year, Hillside has been able to increase the farmers’ groups working with us from under 100 to 500 farmers. Given that agriculture in Kenya is not incentive based, Hillside has networked with stakeholders in the industry (Equity bank, Bayer, and Techno Serve) to support the smallholder with the farm inputs, good agriculture practices training, besides the markets. The transfer of knowledge was in the area organizing smallholder farmers which I was exposed to as we visited small business associations, street markets and coops in the USA.
After the Borlaug Fellowship program training and the follow up evaluation by the team from Southern University, Hillside was introduced to USDA/USAID office in Nairobi, resulting to the linking with fintrack and techno serve; two NGOS that are working with Horticultures SMEs through the Feed the Future program in Kenya. Hillside has submitted a proposal to fintrack with aim of exploring partnership/support to the farmers groups who are in fruits production (mangoes and passion for export).
Since receiving the training, I have held eight training sessions with Hillside staff. I also cease opportunities to pass on the knowledge through trainings with women in the horticulture industry through forums such as the Norwegian, HSH programme where 19 women from the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania are networking to set up a regional export house, the Dabdii house, whose objective is to produce quality lifestyle and food products for the global market. A current assignment that I am undertaking is to assist women exporters to come up with a strategic plan that is relevant and trendy (African women in agribusiness network –AWAN). Hillsides input in these training sessions has been appreciated and recognized.
Since participating in the Bourlag program, Hillsides image and networks as an exporter of horticultural products and helping the smallholder gain access to markets, has gone a notch higher. Resulting in increased networks and participating in a global fruit logistical fair in Berlin last February. Ultimately, resulting in growth of the company and in turn increased participation of the farmers groups.