Agricultural specialists converging for entrepreneurship incubation project closure in Isinya have emphasized the need to support smallholder farmers in the country.
They converged at Latia complex farm in the outskirts of Isinya town where they said food security remains the government’s top priority and much effort has been put into supporting subsistence farming.
However, the experts, however, said what could make a difference in doubling farm production would be to support the medium scale farmers.
“This group of farmers has resources and opportunity to scale up their production to more commercially oriented, and yet they are not big enough to subcontract their work to meet their obligation,” said Latia’s director Peter Muthee.
In an interview, Muthee told KNU agriculture is the base of the country’s economy contributing about 30 percent of the gross domestic product and a further 27 percent coming from logistics, agro-processing and other economic activities that depend on agriculture.
Muthee said a singular focus smallholder farming model which is a dormant mode of production is becoming increasingly untenable.
“Three factors are steering towards rethinking of this model of smallholder centric agriculture-driven development due to the insistence of unsustainable intensification, changing food markets and diet shifts, and rises of supermarkets,” said Muthee.
He said fragmentation of land has been caused by a rapidly growing rural population and is causing pressure on the smallholder farming system.
Urbanization, he said, has created demand for ready-to-eat or processed foods, adding that processed food now holds a 39 percent share of all food expenditure in Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Latia director said urbanization and rising incomes created a demand for consistency in supply, quality, and convenience when shopping for food and other consumer goods.
He, however, said participating in supermarket chains is a challenge for many smallholder farmers because of the huge demands of agricultural products.
Dr. Diederick De Boer said medium-small farming can re-energize the agricultural landscape in a number of ways since they have the orientation to adopt new technologies such as seeds and thus can have higher productivity and crucially relieve the pressure on extension system to demonstrate the impact of new technologies.
Boer said medium-scale farmers have resources to invest in mechanization and can also subcontract surrounding farmers to supplement their input.
Because of the emerging challenges and shortage of food, Boer said urban households are increasingly acquiring agricultural land and the acquisitions are largely driven by opportunities seen in agriculture.
“Many of these urban-based farmers coordinate farming through a telephone thus they are colloquially called ‘telephone farmers’. They usually have larger plots mainly on the range of medium scale farming (5-100 ha),” said Boer.
He said such farmers often lack business and technical skills to properly manage the farms they own because, in most cases, they generally have other professional careers prior to engaging in agriculture.
The project closure was also attended by other stakeholders such as Paul Mbugua of LRC, local MCA Joshua Olowuasa, Prof. Esther Tirima, Dr. Julius Gatune and G. Gwademba of Latia.