By Claire Wanja
A Kenyan Knowledge Centre has called on the government to strengthen the cooperative movement to enable small holder farmers enjoy the same benefits enjoyed by large scale farmers.
Sustainable Inclusive Business Initiatives (SIB), a partnership between the Kenya Private Sector Alliance and MVO Nederland, says cooperatives, if well managed, can create a platform for individual farmers to improve their holdings, acquire farm inputs at affordable prices and compete with large scale farmers for lucrative markets.
The SIB Coordinator, Ms. Karin Boomsma, observed that there are policy gaps which need to be addressed to reduce incidents of hunger and empower people to produce their own food. She said there was a lacuna in funding for the agricultural sector, a situation which was made worse by the absence of strong institutions to turn government policy into reality on the ground.
“The prevailing drought situation in several parts of the country is disturbing, not least because we have been this way before, not once, not twice, but more times than any of us can remember,” said Ms. Boomsma adding that hunger makes a people vulnerable, disempowers and it takes away their dignity.
Ms. Boomsma said in a statement that weather patterns across the country were changing drastically and it was no longer possible for peasant farmers to plan accurately.
The effects of climate change, the statement says, are already being felt worldwide but developing countries are likely to suffer the most due to weak economies and inadequate adaptation and mitigation mechanisms.
Local populations have worsened the impact of climate change by cutting down forests for fuel or to create room for settlement, farming and sometimes, quite sadly, to satisfy a few people’s greed. This situation, it states, is likely to worsen unless drastic measures are put in place to restore the nation’s forest cover.
The statement further observes that rain fed agriculture was no longer viable, given its unpredictability. Kenya, it says, has no option but to adopt innovative measures for food production.
“Worldwide, nations are going for early maturing crops, irrigated agriculture, supplementing staple foods with non-traditional crops and employing technology such as greenhouses to produce food faster with minimal resources while limiting damage by pests and harsh weather,” said Boomsma. She regretted that whereas efforts were being made in this regard they were too little and far in between to make a difference in national food security. Many of the efforts have been reactive rather than policy driven.
The statement makes the case for modernized farming noting that farmers all over the country are still stuck to traditional modes of farming, tilling the land with rudimentary farm implements and waiting on the rain to water the ground. It is a situation that is both unfortunate and untenable and government intervention is needed to avert imminent disaster.
“Small scale subsistence agriculture cannot be relied upon to end recurring food shortages and there is evidence that it impoverishes whole populations as land holdings become smaller and soil loses its fertility due to overexploitation, said Boomsma.
Farming as a business, she says in the statement, is best practiced as large scale mechanized operation that takes advantage of economies of scale, produces affordable food, creates jobs and supports related industries. Large operations are able to attract affordable financing for expansion, technological upgrade and value addition, ensuring that little is lost during and after harvest and converting “waste” to useful products for low end market.