Farming is all about coming together and sharing

Saturday December 5 2015

A tractor ploughs a maize farm at Maili Tisa in Uasin Gishu County.  PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A tractor ploughs a maize farm at Maili Tisa in Uasin Gishu County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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I had to laugh when someone responded to a column on becoming business-minded with the statement: “You can’t be something you are not, a farmer is just a farmer.”

This statement is wrong at so many levels. Farmers are the source of community leadership, successful business ownership, and regional and national policymaking. We see it everywhere. Even President Uhuru Kenyatta owns a livestock ranch.

Then, after thinking about it some more, I realised that no one on earth is more of a lifelong learner than a farmer. Every single day is new. How farmers go about their daily work is fascinating. It turns out that the daily workload of farmers is much like the daily struggles for the framers of our democracy.

They need to work together well and they must share a set of common values, but each one needs to be his or her own man and think and act in his or her own best interest to meet business goals. As readers know, I believe farmers have a pretty balanced perspective on life. Farming is a lifestyle.

We must find and use local solutions to mitigate or overcome the ravages of unpredictable weather and supply interruptions.

Farmers face stressful conditions and need flexible lenders and investors. These two goals can come together when we increase access to flexible sources of financing through local cash mobilisation programmes and through savings and loan-sourcing, whereby discounts might be used to get the farmer-borrowers to adopt climate smart farming technologies.

I remember being called by World Health Organisation in the mid-80s for my opinion about giving small loans to women farmers and discount the loan if they 1) Sent children to school and 2) Got them vaccinated. As a social scientist, I see positive connections where others may not. As a businesswoman, I examine return on investment. I was in favour of the effort. And it worked.

In America, the leading farmers’ organisation was for many years “The Grange”, a rural-based, family social organisation that offered goods and services (like insurance and clothes) to farm families.

The Grange was a democratic-based organisation and every year, it offered up recommendations to local legislatures across the nation on issues and bills about agriculture policy. It is important to have a strong citizen-based organisation to communicate with partners and lay out the argument for a supportive policy framework to open up opportunities in the sector.

As a wise woman farmer said, “When you see a new farming technique at the neighbour’s farm, don’t envy him, but ask how they got to it.” Sharing knowledge is more critical than ever these days as weather and competition brings daily challenges. Producers need to see their land as eco-systems where waste is reused as inputs.

Consumers need to grace their table with a diversity of fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, nuts, legumes, tubers, roots with reasonable and limited amounts of animal and grain. Consumers must embrace their ecosystem as one that simultaneously manages their environment, economy, food security and nutrition.

Ms Feller is an agri-business consultant. [email protected]