The tragedy of being a Kenyan farmer

Vendors display fruits in Kisii town. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Flyover is a small town in Nyandarua County on the Nairobi-Naivasha highway just before you start descending to Naivasha with a scenic view of the Longonot crater.

A new market built nearby bears the name Soko Mpya. A few kilometres away lies Soko Mjinga and a police station by the same name.

I passed by the new market last week to buy foodstuffs. Interestingly, sellers were begging me to buy and pay later. Why such generosity?

This region has great weather, is fertile and has plenty of food. But it seems there is a problem. The supply and demand are not matched.

With most farmers self-sufficient, there is no market for their foodstuffs. The new market or the old one depends on passers-by to buy their produce. They are too few as I noted. 

With perishables like cabbages or sukuma wiki, potatoes or dhania and a small market, the price falls. Yet there is a big market for such food in a country with large swathes of semi-arid regions.  

Why not match supply and demand? One reason is that our culture is resistant to new food. We want to eat what our ancestors ate. That limits the market.

Two is that our transport network does not facilitate marketing. How long would it take to get potatoes from Kinangop to Isiolo? Our transport networks are not optimised for such logistics but the mzungu tried with his rail network. 

Three, the sellers chase us away. We often find their price and that of supermarkets is close or worse. I am told Soko Mjinga name came from buyers finding they were overcharged (kama mjinga).

Four, farming has not been attractive to investors and innovators along the supply chain. It’s not a cool profession. That has led to little value addition. 

Five, our farmers rarely benefit from the generosity of the government through subsidies. That would protect them from vagaries of weather keeping prices high and attracting investors and talents.

We hope that in the next government, agriculture will get the attention it deserves. How much have counties done for agriculture as a devolved function? We hope farmers will get a fair return for their honest work and be proud of their work, not wallow in self-pity. They should get their money on the spot, not later.