By Aghan Daniel and Absalom Mulama *
Outdated irrigation methods, limited access to accurate sources of information and product marketing continue to hamper farming in Kenya, a new survey has revealed.
Besides, says the study, farmers are concerned that farm labour and reducing farm space combine to lead to a lower production quality than expected.
According to the Executive Secretary of the Seed Trade Association of Kenya, Mr Duncan Onduu, the report presents the findings from a recent study, Survey Report of the 2019 STAK Congress, Expo and Mazao Forum, Farmers Session, No.2/2020. A total of 148 farmers participated in the survey from all over the country.Farmers from Embu, Machakos, Kiambu, Muranga and Taita Taveta counties participated in the study.
“This report is intended to guide seed companies and other seed stakeholders in strategizing their reach to farmers while addressing important concerns of farmers in Kenya,” he said.
The farmers indicated that hard economic times have forced them to use outdated irrigation methods such as watering cans, furrowing and sprinklers as opposed to the efficient drip irrigation. With drip irrigation farmers can save water and reduce the need to physically walk around the farm with a watering can. This type of irrigation also solves two potential concerns for the senior farmers; it reduces the physical effort and saves water.
Given that smallholder farmers interviewed preferred interpersonal interaction from the seed suppliers especially the stockists, they risked getting inaccurate and misleading information as they relied on a single source. This basically means that farmers still ignore other sources of information such as the internet and relevant mobile apps which understandably, the small holder farmers may have no access to.
On the reducing land space used for farming in the rural area, the farmers lay blame on the rising rate of rural to urban migration by the energetic youth, combined with the poor farm produce yields. This has forced land owners are increasingly deciding to convert their lands for other uses which might attract more profits. Land owners might decide to put up houses, for example, assuming that when built in a stacking order, houses may take up less space and produce more reliable income.
This is a confirmation that agricultural land in Kenya is shrinking as many landowners convert it for other non-agricultural use.
“In order for Kenya to achieve food security and nutrition goals, there is need to have conversations around this crucial matter. Subsequently, introduction of better innovations and technologies that use less land but provide for higher productivity per unit area should be top of mind among our creative innovators, researchers and development partners,” says a section of the report.
Finding a stable market, according to the farmers is the solution to factors stifling marketing of their produce, preferably away from these five counties would motivate the farmers to put more effort into the farming practice. If the farmers can find alternative methods to market their product rather than using brokers only, then they could reach new markets.
In that case, agribusiness firms, seed companies and other farming stakeholders could be more actively involved in the end product marketing and distribution. By facilitating demand, these stakeholders would create a more busy market and make the farmers buy more seed, thus killing two birds with one stone. The more the concerns surrounding farming in these counties, the more unmotivated farmers become and convert their lands to other uses.
Once the market is established it will be easier to convince the farmers to invest their efforts in the rest of the concerns such as investing in better irrigation techniques, meet the cost of labour and tools to access information. This may be the untapped opportunity for seed companies and agribusiness entrepreneurs, as they will also be contributing to the food security goal by supporting production and supply of food crops.
Older farmers interviewed (over 55 years) claim that the challenge with farm labour such as digging, irrigation, weeding and harvesting takes a toll on their bodies due to age related ailments. Yet the young people charge highly for their services, rates they cannot afford and still break even. They said that a young labourer would require Ksh 300 (USD3) per day a cost they cannot afford sustainably. The senior farmers are then forced to reduce their farmland to a manageable portion and put the rest of the land to a different use.
In any case, the younger residents seem to be uninterested in farming, preferring to move to the urban areas, says the report released on May 13, 2020.
The survey ends by saying that, among other things, messaging of agricultural information ought to be very crisp and not verbose. It notes that use of radio is still preferred among farmers and the seed trade association vows to continue using radio to disseminate information on innovations, seed industry innovations and agricultural marketing.
*Aghan Daniel is the Communication Officer at African Seed Trade Association (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Absalom Mulama is a freelance journalist based the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture based in Nairobi, Kenya,email@example.com