In the last five years, USAID has worked with over 500,000 farmers in 22 counties dealing in maize, sorghum, vegetables, dairy and fruits in a programme called Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (Kaves).
Steve New is Kaves Chief of Party, and he shared with Rachel Kibui lessons learnt during the project, which has ended.
What key finding about the Kenyan farmer did you get during the time of the project?
Most farmers grow crops or keep animals as part of culture or for self-fulfilment. There is no farmer who will earn a decent living by just growing maize or beans alone.
Farmers must set aside space for high-value horticultural crops or dairy, which are more rewarding than the traditional maize or sorghum. Besides that, there is nothing like a small piece of land. It is the will to take risk, think beyond the norm and hard work.
How can farmers bring their costs down?
From our interactions, we realised that labour accounts for between 40-50 per cent of farm expenses. These costs are incurred in activities such as weeding, threshing and harvesting, among others, which are done manually.
However, labour cost can be brought down drastically by use of machines. Both the national and county governments should see to it that they invest in innovative, efficient, easy to use and cost-effective agricultural technologies particularly for smallholder farmers.
Lack of capital is one of the biggest challenges farmers face. Are banks helping farmers?
Most financial institutions do not take farmers seriously. They need to understand the dynamics of agribusiness and come up with loan products specifically designed for farmers.
This way, the farmers will have access to money to invest in agriculture while the institutions will get more income from interest.
Further, farmers need to be informed about emerging issues affecting their agribusinesses. They need to be informed on issues such as climate change, new technologies, seasons and produce that is on demand, among others.
Such information should be packaged in simple and palatable way for easy understanding.
Do young people in the country love farming?
It is a myth that young people do not want to get involved in agriculture. Most of them do, but may not necessarily want to get onto farms.
However, the youth need to be guided on several ways through which they can create employment by farming. These may include marketing, processing and branding among others which do not necessarily involve dirtying hands on the farm.
Kaves mainly dealt with farmer groups, why?
It is the best way to reach as many people as possible. Besides, by working in groups, smallholder farmers can easily secure and sustain markets, get loans and other financial services.
While it is hard, sometimes impossible for a single farmer to be heard, it is easier to seek attention and services from relevant authorities such as the government, as a group.