The unpleasant spat pitting Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund chairman Noah Wekesa on whether to import maize has once again exposed the woes facing our farmers.
Slightly over a year ago, Kenyans were treated to reports of massive scandal at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) touching on irregular purchase of maize that saw cartels benefit at the expense of farmers.
Although the farmers were battling with a devastating drought and subsequent floods and the fall armyworm, there was a substantial harvest, only to learn that unscrupulous brokers had sold millions of bags of maize to NCPB. Farmers had nowhere to sell their crop.
That is why the announcement that the government intended to import 19 million bags of maize was greeted with trepidation, especially after Wekesa contradicted the CS, pointing out the country had 2.76 million bags in strategic reserves. Farmers still hold plenty of maize and the next harvest is looming. This means the country grows enough maize to feed its people, but some individuals create shortage to cash in on imports.
Brokers too have for long time continued to exploit loopholes in the distribution chain, robbing smallholder farmers of their livelihood.
It is high time the Agriculture ministry empowered farmers if the government is keen on attaining food security. Farmers hold the key to food security and must be encouraged to embrace technology and modern farming methods. Agricultural extension officers are a crucial part of this effort.
Researchers, policymakers, communicators and farmers have to work together to enrich the agricultural value chain. It is sad that smallholder farmers have to deal with a myriad challenges, including post-harvest losses, transport costs, limited access to financing and market information and policy gaps that have seen them continue to be disadvantaged.
To undo the damage, the first step would be to eliminate brokers and cartels from the distribution chain to cushion farmers from exploitation.
Governments, the private sector, financial institutions, civil society, foundations, co-operatives and other rural development stakeholders must urgently help transform smallholder farmers from peasantry to farming as a serious business.
In addition to increased productivity, there should be an equal push for marketing improvements to avoid localised gluts that drive down prices and cause farmers to abandon new technologies that seem not to add any value to income.
In this way, the vicious cycle of poverty continues and food security remains elusive. There are opportunities for smallholder farmers to help spur rapid rural economic growth.
The millions of small family farms are the main source of food, employment, and income. A revitalisation of agriculture should focus on more farmers thriving on a vision in which farming as a struggle to survive gives way to farming as a profitable business. —[email protected]