A partnership is growing between vegetable seed company, Rijk Zwaan, and Horizon Empowers! Rijk Zwaan is a leading, global presence in the vegetable breeding industry, which is great news for our agriculture department at Horizon Micro Communities. With 16 greenhouses in Kenya, agriculture has been a longtime social enterprise as well as food source for Micro Communities. 

Horizon farm managers recently traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to attend Rijk Zwaan’s Africa Field Day. Arusha is Rijk Zwaan’s headquarters in Africa for developing hybrid varieties of vegetables like African eggplants, kale, peppers, tomatoes and more. At the Field Day, they learned about these plant varieties and explored better ways to manage and grow in greenhouses. 

Jeconiah, Horizon’s farm manager at Baba Nyumbani, shared his experience:  

“It was a great opportunity for us to go and network with others in the market to propel us to the heights we yearn for. Out of all the varieties of the vegetables Rijk Zwaan is doing in Africa, we saw huge potential for what we can do here in Kitale. It was awesome…I tell you, it was awesome.” 

Rijk Zwaan's Field Day in Arusha, Tanzania

It may seem strange for an organization focused on children’s empowerment to spend time worrying about the specific seeds we plant in our greenhouses. But would it seem so strange to be concerned about food security — especially in communities where our children and their families live? These two are integrally tied together.  

Seed quality can be the difference between a sustainable fresh vegetable supply or not. Rijk Zwaan’s focus on hybrids means the seeds are bred to be high-yielding, drought and disease resistant, and have a longer shelf life than other varieties. This adds more certainty to the planting and growing processes — in quantity and quality of the crop. “When you plant it, you’re guaranteed to get good returns,” Jeconiah said. The seeds are bred in Africa with African growing climates in mind. 

A fresh produce market stand in Kenya

“Helping the African vegetable sector to develop requires strong varieties, better technical knowledge and plenty of patience,” Rijk Zwaan Africa states on their website. “[Growing hybrid seeds] will help small-scale growers to play a key role in building a sustainable food supply in Africa. Our ambition is to contribute to increasing the availability of healthy vegetables and to help African growers generate a better income for themselves.” 

A diet rich in fresh vegetables has myriad benefits — especially for families living with food insecurity and children experiencing malnutrition, which is a reality for many children coming into our Micro Communities. We’ve talked before about a healthy diet’s importance in a child’s overall wellbeing in this interview, but its benefits reach beyond health and strength — they are the building blocks of empowerment. 

Nutrition is one of seven components in Horizon’s Child and Youth Empowerment Index. We track height, weight, access to clean water, and consumption of food and beverages from at least five out of eight food groups.  

“Consumption of vegetables is the most sustainable strategy to overcome micronutrient deficiencies,” Rijk Zwaan Africa says on their website. “To promote vegetables in Africa, we realize it’s important to offer local crops with varieties that are suited to the local climate.” 

An increase in growing on our Micro Communities means more fresh produce for the children, as well as more funds from market sales. Our partnership with Rijk Zwaan includes access to their selling markets, with all profits supporting Horizon program costs. 

Rijk Zwaan has begun to work alongside our farm managers to support greenhouse management and growth, having already visited our greenhouses in Kenya for initial assessments. They will continue to train our staff and advise on proper crops to grow in the area. 

“We saw what they produce — and seeing is believing. From seeing it, I believe we can produce it,” Jeconiah said. “I came back with several images and videos to share with my colleagues in farming. I want them to see it too, so they can believe that what they are doing is possible for us.” 

Written by Sarah Pryor, Nixon Oluoch and Nicole Scott