Revolutionizing Agriculture among Smallholder Farmers in Kenya and Africa
Today I write about smallholder farmers, the fear of the unknown when it comes to their engagement when they will no longer engaged in smallholder farming. I have written about this before, that when it comes to any industrialized country, there is more than enough evidence historically of how each of these grew. An agrarian revolution must have occurred at some point which stirred the need for the growth of the cottage industry and hence the need to have become industrialized.
Their economies grew and that did not mean that agriculture become insignificant but that it became the source of the growing industries that needed raw materials. These provided employment and as these grew and the demand for finished products grew, there was need to import raw materials from other countries which included going beyond borders and continents. That is history, well written and documented.
Back to African smallholder farming and farmers. Is there a reason why our farmers need to fear importation of raw materials from other countries? Why is there need to keep protecting smallholder farmers from imports of locally produced foods? Case at hand, maize? Why are we still stuck on growing maize and not value adding to gain more from the maize? Why are we not growing our local cottage industry? This is the current farm scenario. Our current production is limited by many factors such as:
- Soil fertility
- Availability of Quality Seed
- Production matters which we might not be able to get deeper into but just looking at it generally say the number of crops per square meter, one of the key issues that we need to review if we need to produce economically
- Post harvest handling
- Market Linkages which ties in well with value addition
- Policy matter that are not limited to just infrastructure which might be out of our control but also issues regarding access to affordable credit and finance
- NTBs which limit cross border trade and even locally indirectly heavy taxation on agricultural goods- CESS, logistics only to mention but a few
- Decreasing arable land, which is of high concern and a policy related matter
- Low budgetary allocation to Agriculture that could potential fund R & D activities related to growth in the agricultural sector of better yielding and more resistant varieties
Let us examine the above and tie it with the SHFs fear of the unknown? Currently, the average yield of maize per hectare for a SHF is about 30 bags against the expected 80+ bags. Most SHF do not test their soils due to many factors key being accessibility and affordability. No matter how good the quality of the seed and management of the crop is, without proper soil management, we are bound to lose about 45% of our yield due to soil fertility related issues.
You might ask then, why are farmers in Kenya not testing their soil in order to get recommendations that would otherwise be favorable for their production? Issue pertaining soil testing are policy related issues. Government needs to make efforts to ensure that each farmers is able to test their soil before planting the next crop to enable proper and sustainable use of the natural resources that we have as a country. Maintaining this would not only mean that our yield improves but also that our future generation is secure.
Every year, our country experiences quality seed shortages. I would ask, is it a lack of planning or capacity? If it is planning then this can be sorted out, get those who can roll out the seed production is a better way to ensure all those requiring seed can get it when they need it. Case of capacity, allow more private sector in the space? Would it work? Not sure it would, what policies have been put in place to allow for land that particularly grow seeds to religiously and seriously undertake this? Should we diversify and look at other crops of interest that the population can rely on? What is R&D doing about this? We have heard about seed variation even in batches, what is happening to improve on what already exists? Who is the keeper of our germplasm and what concerns them to date? Who is really responsible to ensure our farmers have not only quality but access to enough seed when they need it and not at exorbitant prices?
In as much as we would like everything to be perfect, there is nothing like 100% in any world. Everything done and every expectation laid our is always if it is ceteris paribus. We might have all inputs at 100% but if our Agricultural policies do not favor crop production by SHF then it might as well be rendered useless.
During the lockdown period, we have experience a lot of abundance and unavailability all happening at the same time in different counties within the same country. Simple measures, roads to make available products from one county of abundance to another without. How can this be done without again imposing high costs to the end consumer? Some buyer claim that whatever is available locally is at times not of quality hence forcing them to import.
How can they get these information to those who produce to ensure whatever is going to the market is as per their specifications? At times we ignore what could otherwise grow our market and move us to self reliance and look elsewhere while we can locally. We need to look also at our research and development arms of the country, we have young scientist coming out with great ideas. I recently saw one with miraa by products available and ready for the market, how many business people would be willing to take up this ideas and pay royalties to this young scientist and commercialize these products allowing him to focus on more research for other by products.
How much is the government also putting in, in terms of budgetary allocation towards agriculture that would allow for such R&D to continue on other crops, building infrastructure to allow for agricultural development at county level, actual dams to allow for rain water harvesting especially now that we are getting into the heavy rain season? Proper access roads for our tea, coffee, maize and horticulture farmers, postharvest handling facilities including cold storage to reduce on post harvest loss. We have simple technologies that can be employed to remove field heat at harvesting, drying of fruits and vegetables which is not only a way of preservation to increase shelf life but also value addition which improves on quality of product and value in the market. Policies on market linkages need to also be looked at especially for export products.
Our Kenyan farmers need to be equipped with market information and training to allow them compete both locally and internationally. They should know what is trending and what will be trending in the future for this to be possible in order to prepare, forecast and plan where their businesses should be.
If farmers get enough yield, produce economically, then they will start rebuilding the cottage industry. It is a no brainer, where there is surplus, there is need to either value add for the local market or to reduce losses. This is how we will be able to grow as a country. If we cannot allow stimulation of the cottage industry in agriculture then our SHFs will continue to see security from the imports through imposing of taxes on raw material imports that would have otherwise grown the local cottage industry to greater heights. This is the only way we can get out farmers from being peasant smallholding farming to commercial farmers. It is time to rethink agriculture among the SHF. I am a believer that our farmers can produce and that can actually have more than enough to consume locally if all nine issues were not only looked into but implemented.