Among those present at the event hosted at the Brilliant Restaurant in Southall, north-west London, were Prof Paul Kiprono Chepkwony, Governor of Kericho County, Japheth Mutai, Speaker of Kericho County Parliament, barrister Usha Teji, a well-known lawyer, British food celebrities and officials from the Kenya High Commission in London, among others.
The expo focused on enhancing the trade and marketing of fresh and frozen sweet potatoes and valued-added coffee in the United Kingdom and Europe. There was special interest from buyers and retailers of sweet potatoes and coffee roasters.
Guests were treated to a dinner of Kenyan sweet potatoes prepared by celebrity award-winning diaspora Kenyan chef Dipna Anand and her father Gulu Anand who owns the Brilliant Restaurant.
The event’s host and organiser, Perez Ochieng’, CEO of Sahara Communities Abroad (Sacoma), said the event was part of her organisation’s initiative to effectively promote the access of Kenyan sweet potatoes and coffee to the UK and European Union markets and at the same time improve the lives of rural farmers.
Both she, and fellow director Sam Ochieng’, are confident that Sacoma’s efforts will open new markets for producers of high quality sweet potatoes from Kericho, Homa Bay and other parts of Kenya.
“This trade event was a catalyst to influence industry, consumers and policy makers and open up new business opportunities and promote investment in Kenyan agriculture,” she said.
“We believe that existing business investment and market development opportunities are not yet fully exploited and are untapped. Opportunities exist for the Kenya sweet potatoes and coffee to secure a sizable portion of the UK and EU market.”
Mrs Ochieng’ said Sacoma imports close to three tonnes of sweet potatoes in the UK but there are high prospects of increasing that volume several-fold as its popularity increases among the East African diaspora communities here and the number of health conscious Britons who love its taste and special nutritional values.
Real value to the event was added with the participation of Governor Chepkwony who was in London recently with a team of county assembly members, farmers and representatives of farming co-operatives. They helped address the concerns of British investors and buyers of Kenyan products and agricultural produce.
A tripartite agreement was signed by Sacoma, Kericho Government and Mervyn Wilson, CEO of the Co-operative College to develop the capacity of Kericho farmers’ cooperatives and those in the surrounding areas.
In order to boost small-holder productivity the project will include targeting co-operative infrastructure development to ensure that rural communities are linked to markets; develop cost-effective rural co-operatives; and help communities win better deals with collective bargaining in the same way as farmers in the United Kingdom.
Over a three-year period a range of initiatives will be introduced — from training local farmers to providing start-up.
Sacoma places special emphasis on sustainable trade and development of farming skills and enterprise in Kenya at the same time encouraging farmers to grow high quality sweet potatoes and other horticultural produce for export markets.
Sacoma aims to establish an extensive network of distributors and retailers for Kenyan horticultural produce which will increase the sales of sweet potatoes.
A major deal was also reached at the expo with a Birmingham-based civic organisation under which Sacoma will supply Kenyan sweet potatoes to more than 25,000 people in West Midlands city.
To make the sales of sweet potatoes go even further, a lot of back stage work is being done to promote and ensure that top quality produce reaches British and European consumers in the major supermarket chains.
Mrs Ochieng’ said plans were also in the pipeline to organise a bigger expo this year.