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In Kenya’s agricultural landscape, small-holder farmers make up 70% of the farming population and account for 75% of national food production. The agricultural outputs contribute 31.5% of the GDP and employ 38 % of the population. It is pertinent to note that the country’s agriculture is also a significant driving force for the non-agricultural economy, providing markets or at least expanding scopes for other industries like logistics, civil constructions, non-profit organisations, technical education, and digital services. 75 percent of employees in the manufacturing sector are in agro-based industries.

The statistics presented above indicate how much Kenya’s economy is dependent on agriculture and precisely, on smallholder farmers. Ironically, the majority of smallholder farmers are presented with inadequate access to farming inputs, knowledge on sustainable farming technologies, finance and commercial markets as well as business and market orientation. In recent years, climatic extremes like droughts and floods, repeated pest-infestations have given rise to the sub-optimal conditions for farming. This has made the farmer families more vulnerable and increasingly exacerbating the food insecurity situation in the country. 

Since the end of last year, the country has seen one of the worst locust invasions in several decades. Adding to its woes, when the ominous waves of this crop-nemesis was darkening the horizon, COVID-19 pandemic knocked on its door. As immediate consequences, the majority of the activities came to a standstill disrupting food supply channels and routes to the market for the produce. Disruptions in the movement have since made it difficult for the farmers to acquire the much-needed support for continued production. For instance, the dusk to dawn curfews have affected the informal transport systems that are essential in ferrying fresh produce to the consumers, most of whom cannot afford to buy from supermarkets. 

In addition to this challenge, most local farmer’s markets have been closed to limit interactions and maintain social distancing to contain the spread of the disease. These markets serve a huge share of fresh and perishable food items. The closure of these marketplaces has added to the already existing challenge. To help reduce the impacts that COVID-19, floods and locusts have presented to the Kenyan food system, it would be useful for authorities responsible to consider opening up the closed markets with controlled capacity. This will enable farmers to continue accessing markets for their produce and reduce losses, especially for the perishable foodstuffs. For instance, certain categories of sellers can sell on specific days of the week. Implementation might pose challenges but the benefits will be more rewarding.

Another perpetual challenge for smallholder farming sectors is the long-standing under-investment. Previous experiences have shown that farmer networks can help solve the challenge of under-investment. For example, through small-holder farmer cooperatives, the farmers are able to share resources, including knowledge, seek government support and access financial facilities to scale their activities. Farmer cooperatives help in timely and effective market access, access to quality inputs such as seeds and other agro-essentials.

To lessen food insecurity, an increase in agricultural productivity is essential. Kenyan farmers need the tools, technologies and knowhow to shift from rain-driven farming to sustainable agricultural practices. There is an urgent need for the government to put in place measures to safeguard Kenya’s food system by supporting farmers. These measures may include long term investment in infrastructural development, improved access to extension services, especially on sustainable resilient agricultural practices, supporting market access and enactment of policies that prioritise the welfare of Kenyan smallholder farmers.  

Kenya’s food system is faced with many challenges however, there exist opportunities that can be exploited to safeguard food security. This will need collective investment from the government and citizens. For instance, consumers need to continue purchasing local foodstuff from their local farmer markets. Collectively we can secure Kenya’s food system.

Moushumi Chowdhury

Greenpeace Africa Supporter