Let’s Solve the Paradox of Hungry Farmers

A trend is emerging in rural areas: Farmers crowding the markets to get their daily food supplies.

One would assume that farmers, by the definition of their labor, should produce enough food for their needs. But then, although small-scale farmers contribute about 70 percent to the national food basket, the average Kenyan maize farmer is a net buyer — able to grow enough for their use for up to nine months.

What you need to know:

  • Food markets in Kenya are not well structured, least of all in rural areas.
  • Poor infrastructure and market systems help to make the markets inefficient and unreliable.
  • Let families make use of kitchen gardens to grow vegetables and spices.
  • Traditionally, local farmers fed themselves by producing healthy food and selling the surplus to fund other household needs and necessities.

This begs the question: What happened to growing for subsistence first before selling?

It makes financial sense when farmers sell their produce to meet expenses such as health and education but not so that they can buy food. This clearly shows that our farmers are being progressively influenced to innocently cope with, and implement, the “farming as a business” clarion call.

SMALLHOLDER FARMERS

In their quest for better incomes and living conditions promised by “agribusiness model” promoters, smallholder farmers are giving up their food sovereignty, which was uniquely flavored by a wide range of crops on small pieces of land and was enough to feed their families.

This approach has been referred to by agribusiness protagonists and “value-chain experts” as unprofitable.

But what makes better sense for farmers — getting profits or being able to feed themselves first? Why should they only produce one crop on their farms, sell it because there is a good market for it and then line up to buy all the other foods that they could have grown?

RURAL AREAS

Food markets in Kenya are not well structured, least of all in rural areas. Rural food markets are usually treated to rejects from the cities and towns; you rarely see fresh spinach stocked in supermarkets and super-groceries.

Poor infrastructure and market systems help to make the markets inefficient and unreliable. Traders who dominate the business often have inadequate market information and planning skills. They have no ability or interest to expand so as to meet the growing demand that is fuelled by the overdependence of rural households on informal food markets.

AGRIBUSINESS

Agribusiness is a vehicle to drive increased agricultural production and involvement of more people in food production, handling, and trade but there is a need to maintain, or even advance, the ability of farming households to produce their own food.

Traditionally, local farmers fed themselves by producing healthy food and selling the surplus to fund other household needs and necessities. Let families make use of kitchen gardens to grow vegetables and spices. Food security starts at the household level and promoting family farming is one way of achieving it.

Let’s not mistake food insecurity for an increasingly upscaled, commercialized, and privatized model for agriculture — the latter is not a solution for the former.

INSECURITY

Smallholder farmers face chronic food insecurity since they do not have as much purchasing power as employed people. The only way to ensure that they are cushioned from the unpredictable market dynamics — a common phenomenon — is by encouraging them to produce first for their families before they look to the market.

It is only when the food market has been streamlined, is reliable, and offers sufficient information and transparency can we talk about the specialization of small-scale farmers into value chain-specific production.

Integrated farming, diversification, and all-year-round production through water conservation should be promoted in rural areas as it will assure small-scale farmers with typically low purchasing power a meal of their choice.

 

Published at Nation

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