Who is a farmer in Kenya? A farmer is anyone who cultivates crops and rears animals either for subsistence use or for commercial use. In short, farming is not a dirty hobby but a viable business. In Kenya, a farmer is the most hardworking individual and yet one of the most underpaid. The marketing structure of the agriculture sector is mired with information asymmetry and many value chain actors. This results in farmer exploitation by middlemen.
Not all small farms can hope to succeed as commercial farms in the future. Those that can need the right kinds of business support. Those who are unlikely to succeed as commercial farmers need different types of assistance.
Smallholder commercial farmers are successfully linked to value chains and run their farms on a business basis.
Small farms in transition have favorable non-farm opportunities and obtain much of their income from non-farm sources.
Subsistence –oriented small farms frequently sell small amounts of produce at harvest to obtain cash income. Most of such earnings go into day-to-day utilities with no long term monetary investments.
Optimizing the role of producer organizations in promoting the integration of smallholders into agricultural value chain is the game changer to the intermediation of small scale agriculture. A working example of the power of smallholder producer organizations is the Githunguri Dairy Farmers Cooperative in Kiambu County. It functions as a demand-driven and market-oriented business organization. The success of producer organizations heavily lies in access to technical, commercial, and financial resources necessary to position their members as credible business partners.
Kenya has a myriad of mobile applications with diverse agricultural information concerning good agricultural practices, market access, pest and disease control, access to inputs and farm machinery that has enabled e-extension to the producer groups. ICT has helped overcome the physical, infrastructural and institutional obstacles facing smallholders that would otherwise prove impossible from integrating into the globalizing and modernizing value chains. We farmers can also get updates on market trends, track possible market price changes and prepare adequately that is through one-tap access to the stock exchange.
Farming should start by identifying a reliable market for the produce. For youths looking to cultivate the land for profit-making, the best approach is to focus on the low-hanging fruits. Growing short-term crops such as vegetables, especially indigenous vegetables and tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices enable the youth to harvest after a short season and sell.
The rapid transformation of staple food value chains and rise in urbanization presents considerable market opportunities for us farmers as producers. Increase in consumer awareness on matters of food safety and the tastes and preferences for healthy eating are not to be underscored when choosing to venture into agricultural production. The land is a major factor of production and only keeps depreciating in amounts. Venturing into soilless farming is necessary to counter the land pressure while producing food for the urban dwellers. Farmers also need to utilize their land well, indicate the plots, varieties grown and even labeling harvests accordingly. This is also in the vein of enabling traceability of the final product from consumer to the original farm to enhance the food safety aspect in farming. In addition to conservative land use, reducing food waste from farm to consumer through proper packaging and transportation to markets will also contribute to a reduction in post-harvest losses.
Much is said about crop husbandry forgetting that livestock keeping is also a viable agribusiness venture especially with the rise in Kenyan Arid and Semi-arid lands. Kenyan policymakers and practicing farmers need to critically consider rebalancing the livestock component of future diets. Water is the key enabler in agricultural production. The farmers need to shift from over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture, especially with the recent experience of prolonged drought and subsequent crop failure. The government has in its Food and Nutrition Security pillar of the Big Four Agenda, invested in irrigation schemes and construction of water pans. These are to expand the water resources used for agricultural production. We as farmers need to hold the government accountable for the running and sustenance of such huge investments; as is our constitutional right. Information is power. Familiarizing with the many agriculture initiatives by the Ministry of Agriculture should be as common as pest and disease control in promoting viable agribusiness enterprises.
Farming is no longer business as usual. We have to be up to date with market concerns, cost of running a business from input purchase to market delivery, Food safety standards, Climate Smart and conservation agricultural practices. Farming is a risky business that requires precision, research, and documentation. Register your farm as a business, manage it as a business, and watch yourself earning more than any other business venture. Smallholders now need to become credible business partners with other value chain operators. Only then can we enjoy the well-deserved fruits of our labor.