At the slopes of Mt Elgon, 40 kilometers from Kitale; Chepchoina area near Kenya-Uganda border, lays one of the oldest horticultural farms in Kenya, Mt Elgon Orchards (MEO).
The farm was founded in 1920 by a Swedish botanist Robert Andersen, the grandfather of the current owner Bob Andersen.
Over the years the farm has grown many crops e.g coffee, avocado, apples and peaches, but in 1993 they started growing roses for export market. For the last 25 years, the farm has developed into one of the best quality rose producer in the country with a commendable corporate social responsibility
The farm is the largest source of employment in the area with over 1500 workers depending on it for livelihood. It is one of the biggest employer in Trans Nzoia County, boosting the economy of the area in excess of millions of shillings every month in form of salaries.
The vibrancy of the farm went a notch higher when Dr. Bea Andersen, wife to Bob Andersen, saw the need to start a clinic in 1996. From the clinic she offered medical care to employees of the farm and the local population at large. She later on in 1998 began a nursery and a primary school which saw her enroll hundreds of pupils in search of education.
In 2005, she founded Mount Elgon Trust to give her work a more official recognition as it expanded to more other community programs. The Trust was registered as an NGO in order to solicit for funds, MEO being the main sponsor. Today, the Trust has transformed the clinic to a fully equipped hospital facility; the Andersen Medical Centre which offers services ranging from treatment for minor surgery, laboratory, dental services, pharmacy, antenatal services, ultrasound, physiotherapy, orthopedic clinic, x-rays, child care clinic, ambulance among other services. The facility has over 30 staffs and offers both inpatient and outpatient services.
“Employees of Mount Elgon Orchards and their families’ benefits from the projects of the Mount Elgon Trust which include Health Care, Education and Housing projects amongst others.” explained Andy Dean Manager Mount Elgon Trust.
The Trust runs an elaborate education system from Primary, Secondary, a Vocational training institution which offers courses in; floriculture, carpentry, hospitality and catering, ICT, motor vehicle repair, metal fabrication, agri-business, fashion design, hair and beauty among others.
Andersen Primary School has over 1,000 pupils. The secondary school has almost 600 students and the vocational training institute has an enrollment of 126 students. These learning institutions have been fully accredited by Examinations Board of Kenya.
“Mount Elgon Orchards is still responsible for the salaries and basic running costs for the projects. The external funds are being used for the physical development of the projects and extra activities,” said Andy Dean. The Trust currently pays salaries for around half the teachers of the schools and the remainder is catered for by the Government, it is hoped that more Government teacher will be appointed soon.
Under the Andersen Medical Centre, the Trust offers VCT services. They conduct a mobile VCT whereby people are tested and counseled yearly. According to Andy, the VCT is the busiest in the region. The ministry of health is providing: ARV drugs, TB drugs, STI drugs, test kits, mosquito nets, condoms as well as trainings the community leaders, peer educators and self-help groups.
The Mount Elgon Trust Children’s Home was relocated in 2007 to a brand new purpose built home, funded by Dutch donors and supported by the farm. The home can care for up to 36 children and since its creation it has been continuously funded by MEO together with an Australian foundation: AFFORD. Some other children with desperate cases are fostered by their relatives with support from the Trust for those families to be able to feed the children, give proper shelter, food and education,” Andy stated.
In an attempt to create awareness for the environment, the Trust has developed a tree nursery. People from the community go the garden to observe the usefulness of different trees and how they are grown hence promoting tree planting and assisting the locals with tree selection and maintenance.
MEO is indeed making Chepchoina successful and sustainable; through improving living standards, levels of education, medical standards and creating a thriving economy.