Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Small scale farming: From subsistence to sustainable business

Despite, our economic progress, agriculture is still the source of livelihood for majority of Kenyans. It is still the largest employer as an industry. If Kenya is to progress economically and equitably we must become more productive and agile farmers. There has never been a better time to be a farmer, but there has never been a more difficult time to do so.
  • Knowledge is power: In Kieni West is a bit like Ukambani in that when it rains, it rains well and when it doesn't, it dries up badly. Despite this, farmers have taken on horticulture with a gusto not seen for a while. Farmers tend to have sizeable holdings i.e. 20+ acres so its not unusual to see a farmer with 1 acre under onions or green beans. The flaw is that these are rain dependant products at the initial stage. More often than not, many get burned financially if it doesn't rain as the quality of the crop is very dependant on this initial rain. If farmers had access to good weather forecasting information, they could avoid planting at certain times. There is also the whole issue of diversify your risk.
  • Government services: In the old days, farmers had access to agriculture officers who advised on the best variety of seeds to plant; they had access to veterinary services so that if you were a daily farmer, you could get insemination services and treatment services at small cost. Rather than running around trying to save very rich individuals from the ICC, GoK could quite cheaply have a veterinary officer in every county in Kenya.
  • KARI's role: For years, its been my understanding that KARI has developed drought resistant variety of seeds. I am therefore pained when I see farmers lose their maize or potatoes because it hasn't rained enough.
  • Commercialising farming: For many farmers, they have yet to move from farming to eat to farming to sell some of their produce. Farmers are better at animal husbandry that your urbanite who wishes to keep hens for sale, yet they are not involved in this business.

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