Even so, villagers took some convincing that they would be better off bartering their farm produce than selling it to merchants who would trade it for a large profit in bigger markets.
“At first the people resisted the idea,” explains Mureithi Githinji, chairman of the village market.
But when a few, including Githinji, decided to try swapping commodities, they found they could make their food last to the next season. Soon more people joined the scheme, and the barter trade gained leverage.
Rising demand for food from growing urban populations and changing weather patterns have put increasing pressure on farmers, says Angela Kimani, subregional emergency officer for Eastern and Central Africa in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Many see little benefit from rising food prices in cities, with most of the profits of their production instead going to middlemen traders, who also profit when selling grain back to farmers during times of drought and crop failures.
A report by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) indicates that more than 10 million Kenyans suffer from food insecurity, with the majority of them relying on food relief.
Rural and urban households are also incurring huge food bills due to high prices, says the report, while staple food is in short supply.
KARI links food insecurity to frequent droughts, high input costs for domestic food production, and land tenure insecurity, which is displacing farmers in areas with the greatest potential for growing crops.
“The high global food prices and low purchasing power by a large proportion of the population, due to high levels of poverty, means there is need to have infrastructure that protects the rural food chain,” says Ephraim Mukisira, KARI’s director, referring to bartering networks.
Some experts see bartering as a way to enhance food security while ensuring that traditional staple foods remain within the rural food chain.