The town of Mwegiki is a verdant farming village on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya in the heart of the Kenyan breadbasket, known for its fertile land and temperate climate — perfect conditions for growing agricultural products. Yet, smallholder farmers in this area are not thriving; most sell their limited surpluses at well below market value. As individual farming households, they lack the resources, storage, and quantity of product necessary to be competitive in the regional market.
To help farmers move away from subsistence livelihoods and toward more profitable commercial production, USAID’s Competitiveness and Trade Expansion (COMPETE) program is promoting the use of commercial village stores. These are community bulking centers that depend on smallholder farmers agreeing to pool their resources. This creates larger stores of high-quality agricultural products that are directly marketed to buyers. The concept improves on the traditional practice of individual farmers selling small quantities of goods to intermediaries who offer significantly lower prices.
Each village store consists of up to 500 households. COMPETE is supporting 56 village stores across Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia (representing about 130,000 individuals), with plans to roll out to Malawi and Ethiopia. Of the participating village stores, 44 have demonstrated success by bulking as a community as of 2010. The remaining 12 have embraced the concept and awaited the Tanzanian harvest season.
For commercial village stores to succeed, the town has to invest in the idea. For this, Juliana Kaburia Jasper, a retired schoolteacher turned full-time community leader, was indispensible. With USAID and Farm Concern International, Jasper introduced the goal of the village stores and galvanized the community toward action.
One of her first converts was a former student, Mugambi K. Mutituuri, who saw the wisdom of Jasper's community plan and immediately deposited seven 90-kilogram bags of grain into the village store. To Mutituuri, the logic of a commercial village store was obvious: “When I sold to middlemen, I would get maybe 700 Kenyan shillings per bag. Selling as a community, I can get twice that.”
Mwegiki now has a large village store in the center of town. It is a hub of activity where grain is dried, weighed, and properly stored. Community members carry “rain savings passbooks” to show how much they have contributed to the store and their projected earnings. As a commercial entity, the town of Mwegiki is negotiating with a buyer from one of Kenya's largest suppliers.
In Jasper’s words, COMPETE and the commercial village store projects are “changing the mindset of a community for an improved standard of life.”