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Improving small-scale farmer income is vital to achieving food security

Achieving 100 per cent food and nutrition security in Kenya requires optimal investment in transforming the country’s agriculture sector into a modern, vibrant and profitable national undertaking.

Of significance is the role of the small-scale farmer in the whole equation.

To transform farming in Kenya, we have to empower small-scale agricultural producers to generate sustainable income and livelihood from crops, livestock and fisheries. This means allocating resources to areas where maximum impact will be felt along the entire agriculture value chain. Priority should be given to projects that boost productivity and unlock value addition opportunities such as processing.

The road map for transforming Kenya’s agriculture sector is clearly articulated in the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS 2019-2029), which offers a comprehensive view of how the country aims to transform and modernize the sector. This should be read together with the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) outlining how the strategy will be funded.

According to NAIP, the implementation of ASTGS will cost between Ksh 400-440 billion in the five years to 2024. Of this, Ksh 230 billion will be directly channeled through the ministry of agriculture. The rest will be allocated to other government agencies providing support infrastructure like roads and energy.

This is indeed a colossal amount of money,. Notably, the government plans to finance only 20 per cent of the estimated cost, with the balance sourced from the private sector. In fact, ASTGS emphasizes that public-private partnerships (PPPs) will be critical in delivering successful outcomes.

However, given risks like perennial drought, high cost of inputs and cheap imports plaguing the sector, will private investors play ball? What is in it for them? Where does the small-scale farmer come into the picture? And where will all this money be going?

The transformation strategy identifies six flagships four of which directly touch on improving small-scale farmer incomes and increasing agricultural output and value addition. The key to success is on-boarding the private sector as a driver of the value addition process which will in turn stimulate production by both small and large-scale farmers.

Available estimates show 75 per cent of the food produced in Kenya is consumed at the household level. This is a strong indicator of the potential for creating sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers who account for the bulk of the country’s crop, livestock and fisheries production.

Under Flagship 1, for instance, the government plans to boost the incomes of 1 million small-scale producers of crops, livestock and fisheries. This partly involves strengthening the agro-processing and value addition capacity of over 1,000 farmer-facing SMEs.

There are opportunities here for private sector. Of the Ksh 230 billion to be channeled directly through the ministry of agriculture, for instance, about half of it will go into putting up agro-processing hubs mostly factories, with private sector playing a leading role.

The proposed agro-processing hubs, to be established across the country, will open opportunities for small scale farmers to ramp up production to meet demand for produce by processors, thus earning more money. Small-scale farmers, if properly integrated into the value chain, are critical to the sustainability of Kenya’s agriculture sector, and changing the way we do farming in this country.

The ideal starting point is creating incentives for small-scale producers to expand production and partner with processors and other players in the value addition chain. From a private investor perspective, reliable supply of produce is vital to sustaining value addition activities such as processing.

Efficient support infrastructure such as roads (linking farms to factories and markets) and energy (powering processing, storage facilities) must also be in place.

The transformation and growth strategy also emphasizes capacity building through transfer of knowledge and skills, research and adoption of climate-smart farming. Again, opportunities for private sector players such as ICT firms in a data-driven agricultural environment are immense.

All these interventions if well executed will have a strong, positive bearing on small-scale farmers by increasing efficiency and returns. The government should however explore tax incentives for farmers, processors and input suppliers to make agriculture more attractive. Unfavorable trade terms that fuel the influx of cheap food imports into the domestic market should also be tackled.

In addition, considering the economic, fiscal and social impact of ASTGS, there is need for comprehensive stakeholder involvement at every level of the implementation process. Also, the ministry of agriculture needs to roll out an aggressive awareness campaign targeting all actors in the value chain.

Extensive public sensitization is required given the strategic significance of the agriculture sector on the economy. Above all, the small-scale farmer must be at the center of the whole process.

By: MOGOMOTSI MAGOME Associated Press
Image credit: Free-Photos from Pixabay

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