Making a difference to communities in Kenya

When Comic Relief awarded more than half a million pounds to Plymouth University last year, it marked a new beginning for both the institution and the charity.

The first instance of the biennial appeal awarding funding to higher education, it also enabled the University to forge a partnership with an established social enterprise in eastern Africa, taking its mission to transform lives and adapting it for one of the poorest corners of the planet.

Almost six months later, the University and its partners are ensuring the funding is having an impact.

The two-year project – funded with £535,484 from Comic Relief – sees the University working with an international partner, the Farm Shop Trust, and one of Plymouth’s existing partner colleges – Duchy College in Cornwall – whose rural business network has been identified as an exemplar model for supporting rural entrepreneurship.

Using their collective expertise in social enterprise and business growth, they have already analysed the current set-up as part of their mission to develop a sustainable and commercially viable supply chain for agricultural inputs across its network.

A number of new shops have opened in Kenya’s Kiambu County, and the team have also begun to train and educate farmers and students in the communities, with a view to creating jobs and opportunities in an area where youth unemployment is a major problem.

Since the funding was awarded in September 2014, the Plymouth team have twice visited Kenya to gain first-hand knowledge of the communities they are trying to help and the challenges they face.

Dr Bob Newbery, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Development at Plymouth University, said:

“Going out to Kenya and engaging with the local people was a really amazing experience. We wanted to do a survey to show the current situation, but before we could do that we had to go in and have tea with the chiefs of each community as their backing gives you a sense of legitimacy. In some cases, the initial reception was a little frosty but we were able to convince them our work had the potential to positively impact on them and their communities.”

During visits in October and February, Dr Newbery and Duchy’s Dr Stephen Roderick selected two towns and two smaller villages for the initial research project, which aims to assess a number of factors about existing community life.

Through their surveys, they hope to gain knowledge of farming yield, wellbeing, children’s education, social demographics, entrepreneurial and leadership skills; poverty levels, nutritional levels, and farming practice and knowledge.

Two of the four selected communities are among those scheduled to receive new farm shops, and the impact they have on all of these areas will be analysed as the project continues.

Dr Newbery adds:

“Next year, we will go back and assess the impact of the new farm shops on these communities and their people. But we will also be able to continue the work we have already done in training people to staff the shops, as that is another key focus of our work. The new shops already have franchisees, but shop assistants must be qualified to a certain level. Also there is a big problem with youth unemployment, so what they are doing is talking to young farmers and training them up.”

Young people from the Kenyan communities take part in a training session

Dr Bob Newbery, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Development at Plymouth University, said:

Next year, we will go back and assess the impact of the new farm shops on these communities and their people. But we will also be able to continue the work we have already done in training people to staff the shops

Paul Gachie, General Manager of Farm Shop Trust Ltd, said:

We are incredibly proud of our partnership with Comic Relief and Plymouth University. With their support we are substantially scaling our network and will reach an additional 25,000 farmers this year

One of the Farm Shop Trust's new sites in Kiambu County

As a part of his role in the project, Dr Stephen Roderick, from Duchy’s Rural Business School visited a number of farmers benefitting from the work that Farm Shop Trust are doing through their demonstration farm network. He said:

“It was great to see the way the team there are linking up with some incredibly innovative farmers to provide a ‘best practice’ training resource for others. I’m looking forward to seeing how this really important element of the project develops over the next year.”

The coming months will see the continuation of work with communities in Kenya, and this summer it is planned to send a mixture of students and staff from Plymouth and Duchy out to Kiambu County for the next phase of the project.

The Farm Shop Trust was established by accomplished social entrepreneurs, Farouk Jiwa and Madison Ayer, whose previous venture – Honey Care Africa – earned global praise from the Prince of Wales Business Trust, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

Paul Gachie, General Manager of Farm Shop Trust Ltd, said:

“We are incredibly proud of our partnership with Comic Relief and Plymouth University. With their support we are substantially scaling our network and will reach an additional 25,000 farmers this year. Equally exciting for us is the opportunity this collaboration offers to rigorously assess the impact we are having on the lives of our customers and communities. Comic Relief's commitment to supporting sustainable interventions and measuring impacts on poverty is a perfect fit for our focus and our collaboration with Plymouth.”