Medium-size farmers key to unlocking Kenya’s pursuit of food security

Reveals the outcome from a partnership between the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Equity Group and medium size farmers in Kenya.

NAIROBI, Tuesday 20th February 2018……. Investing in medium size farmers is one of the most powerful tools to promoting food security and boosting shared prosperity in Kenya. This was revealed during a partnership meeting between Equity Group and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The meeting was a culmination of a three year Agriculture Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme project targeting 2000 medium-sized farms in Eastern, Central and Rift Valley Regions of Kenya. The project targeted farms ranging between 10 and 100 acres in select food crops, with an aim to enhance commercialization.

The project involved using an Extension Ecosystem that delivers training, linkages and tools through one-on-one relationships with farmers and through peer groups, business groups and field days. The peer group trainings were tailored to give individualized attention that ensured farmers received tailored feedback and support, while the group-based approaches helped the project deliver training cost effectively. Farmers developed a cohesive bond and the project fostered an environment for partnership between farmers and other value chain players

The project brought out crucial learnings such as addressing all areas of the value chain in order to achieve maximum impact; improving the farming practices and creating market linkages in unlocking the potential of medium size farms. The project also focused on increasing production at the farm level, enhancing access to technology and finance amongst other interventions.

Some of the key hindrances to the development of agricultural ecosystem discovered in the project include low yields, owing to insufficient use of quality inputs and poor agriculture practices; high post-harvest losses due to poor or limited storage infrastructure and use of pest management strategies; limited knowledge of farm-level profitability, as a result of limited financial education and record keeping practices and shortage of quality practical agriculture training courses & centres.

Speaking during the forum, Equity Group CEO & MD Dr James Mwangi noted that medium-size farms, which cover a large proportion of underutilized farmland, possess enormous potential to rapidly increase food production. He added that capacity enhancement to medium size farmers can strengthen value chains and markets in key agriculture sectors.

“Besides creating jobs and enhancing foreign exchange earnings, commercialisation of agriculture is essential for food security in this country. A lot of efforts have gone into supporting the sector but our country still remains food insecure. The solution has often been to import food, draining the country from foreign exchange the sector should be benefiting from,” said Dr Mwangi.

Dr Mwangi added: “We need to be more productive and efficient in the way we grow food, while building the resilience of both farmers and food supply chains, simultaneously increasing foreign exchange, employment and food security. This process requires policies and regulations that foster growth in the agriculture and food sectors, well-functioning markets and thriving agribusinesses that make more food available in rural and urban spaces.”

Dr Mwangi further stated that Equity Group Foundation will continue to work with industry partners to intervene in areas where the project beneficiaries still face challenges that hinder them from realizing increased farm income. The project has directed its activities to facilitate production related trainings such as soil health management, crop management, dairy production, water management and post-harvest handling.  It has also carried out agribusiness trainings and mentorship to equip the farmers to run their farming as commercial entities.

“Over the next three years, we will be scaling up our training to target 20, 000 medium-sized farmers in Kenya with a goal to increase their on-farm profits and investment. The lessons learnt from the Extension Ecosystem approach used in the project will be useful in informing how we approach the next group of medium-size farmers,” added Dr Mwangi. Following the success of the pilot accelerator project, the Bank has announced it will set aside a ksh20bn credit facility to support transformation of agriculture.

On his part, the Netherlands Ambassador to Kenya, Amb. Frans Makken noted a gradual shift in focus by the Netherlands government, from traditional foreign aid modalities, to supporting private sector development. He added that the role of developmental aid as a driver of inclusive socio-economic growth in Kenya is diminishing.

“We are geared towards private sector parties interested in adopting new technologies and new ways of working, where the commercial element will be the driver of the sustainability of the projects. We are targeting medium sized farmers because they are in a better position to take risks, better integrated in the value chain, more able to adopt to new technology and innovations. When they finally adopt new technologies, there is a trickle down effect as they reach out to smaller farmers,” said Amb. Makken.

Further, the Ambassador acknowledged that food systems must not only be able to provide food security to the growing world population, but they must also deliver diverse, nutritious diets that are affordable and accessible to all and promote trade.

“Improved agricultural productivity must be coupled with increased resilience to climate change and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, for agriculture to deliver on its full potential, value chains must be strengthened,” he said.

While Agriculture is the economic and social mainstay of some 500 million smallholder farmers and in developing countries, sustainable, inclusive growth in the agriculture and food sectors creates jobs—on farms, in markets, cities, towns and villages, and throughout the farm-to-table food production and consumption chain.

According to a World Bank Report Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2017, an increasing world population which is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, rising food demand is estimated to increase by at least 20% globally over the next 15 years with the largest increases projected in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Asia. Boosting the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture is essential for fighting hunger and poverty, tackling malnutrition and boosting food security.

While acknowledging the support that the Government though the Ministry of Agriculture has extended to the project, Dr Mwangi rallied for more support from the Government and partners in policy formulation; extension services for learning and setting up post-harvest management solutions to enhance capacity across the country.

“We would thank the government and HE for making agriculture one of the big four in the government agenda. However, we call on more partners to support farmers in order for us to enhance the sector,” said Dr Mwangi.