Coronavirus shows smallholder farmers need help to thrive

The Covid-19 has revealed how vulnerable the agri-food value chain is to abrupt external shocks, hence the urgent call for stakeholders to help build resilience in the sector.

For millions of farm families, the impact of Covid-19 is catastrophic. Smallholder farmers depend on farm-level production for nourishment and income to support their families pay for education, healthcare and other essentials.

The agricultural sector is critical to the agri-food system and an indispensable pillar to economic architecture. It contributes 24 (directly) per cent and 27 per cent (indirectly) to the country’s GDP, supports livelihoods of about 80 per cent of Kenya’s rural population and, through forward and backward linkages, provides employment to about 65 per cent of workers.  

However, crippled by the triple effect of locust invasion, weather variability and now Covid-19, farmers are facing a major crisis. Consequently, it is important for stakeholders to mitigate the impact of these crises by supporting farmers to build resilience.

Indeed, for Kenya’s agri-food sector to transform in a meaningful way — enhance farmers’ livelihoods and incomes and push Kenya to attain the socioeconomic imperatives envisaged in Kenya Vision 2030 — we must commit to substantively support the agri-food sector.

Right move

It is strategic and visionary to support farmers as they undergird the country’s GDP and as a pathway to industrialisation, meaningful socioeconomic transformation and sustainable growth.

The budgetary allocation to the sector should reflect Kenya’s fidelity to the Malabo Declaration. Kenya is yet to meet this commitment; a shame for a country so dependent on agriculture.

The government has it right on several fronts:  Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), the Warehouse Receipt Council to operationalise the warehouse receipt system for coffee, tea, maize, rice, beans and tea; the envisaged commodity exchange (COMEX); the envisaged national farmer registration, various regulatory frameworks for flagship commodities and desirable changes in the country’s strategic food management framework.

While these are commendable, they will come to nought if resources are not channeled into the various efforts in a targeted and sustained manner. Kenya needs to make true her commitment to the Malabo Declaration. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives has called on farmers and agriculture stakeholders “to intensify production and coordinate efforts to ensure timely availability of inputs, extension support, transportation and value addition.”

However, a survey by Kenya National Farmers’ Federation (KENAFF) through its county branches, paints a different picture. The triple threat of Covid-19, locust invasion weather variability has had a drastic impact on farm production and productivity among smallholder farmers.

While the entire rural population is highly vulnerable to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the effect on rural women who are largely dependent on the informal economy and agribusiness is severe.

These shocks will have a direct hit on two pillars of the Big Four Agenda (food and nutrition security as well as health) and, indirectly, on the other pillar on manufacturing.

Resilience means farm families are food and nutrition secure; able to access and engage in reliable markets; prioritise the participation and well-being of women, youth and persons with disabilities and able to withstand internal and external shocks on their enterprises.  

As part of its commitment to enhanced livelihoods, KENAFF is working with various partners to support farmers build resilience against Covid-19, climate change and market challenges.

Some of the resilience work KENAFF is doing with farmers include the promotion of sustainable home gardens for enhanced household level food and nutrition security, training and supporting rural entrepreneurship; training on and promoting farm forestry; setting up a network of Farmer Field Schools and creating awareness and sensitising farmers on Vision 2030, the Big Four Agenda, ASTGS, the Warehouse Receipt System, Regreening Kenya Initiative and SDGs.

KENAFF also organises farmers into groups and associations and strengthens their organisations from the grassroots.

Strong and well managed farmers’ organisations have the capacity and resources to organise members for production as well as access to inputs and technical advisory services.

Ultimately, such farmers are able to negotiate market dynamics from a strong position; a win-win for all actors along the value chain and, indeed, for the country.

-The writer is CEO of the Kenya National Farmers Federation. [email protected]