Smallholder Farmers: The Backbone To Kenya’s Food Security

The truth is, agricultural productivity in Kenya cannot exist without the involvement of smallholder farmers who are known for their resilience and ability to grow crops in harsh climatic conditions. As per the 2022 report from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the agricultural sector contributes roughly 22.4% to the country’s total GDP, and smallholder farmers make up around 5.6 million of the overall farmer population.

For years, they have employed traditional methods of farming that have been passed down from generation to generation. However, the use of modern farming techniques such as fertilizers has revolutionized the smallholder farming sector in Kenya, leading to increased crop yields and food security. Such techniques are proven ways to lift measures of economic prosperity—but even so, true progress continues to elude millions of small-holder farmers.

So, we’ve got to keep asking questions: How can smallholder farmers progress in such challenging times thanks to factors beyond their control? In fact, smallholder farmers in Kenya face numerous challenges in their farming practices, including lack of access to – farming inputs, limited access to credit facilities, underdeveloped markets and inadequate extension services. When a smallholder farmer embraces farming techniques, are they set up for success?

These questions illustrate the difference between theory and reality. We can’t just talk about smallholder farmers from a limited point of view. It is a good reminder to remember that they are vital for transitioning to more sustainable forms of agriculture, and their participation is crucial to the success of Kenya’s food security.

One of the most reliable ways to achieve this is through gaining support from the private sector for the agricultural sector.

In Kenya, it is crucial that private sector players continue to support smallholder farmers.  Agro dealers, for instance, provide farmers with a vital link in the supply chain for agricultural inputs. They provide a variety of products and services, including advisory services, training, and credit to farmers. They also act as intermediaries between manufacturers and farmers, ensuring that inputs are available when needed and at affordable prices. We’ve seen what happens when farmers get the opportunity to access such inputs, which enable them to increase their crop yields.

Farmers’ education pays dividends, and in surprising ways too. Take an example of our OCP farmer school lab, which ensures farmers have the skills and management information resources needed to optimize their land’s potential. And farmers can access a wide range of agricultural services, including interactive training sessions on best agricultural practices and soil-testing units demonstrating current technologies and innovations.

At OCP, we understand the relevance of soil testing as a lever for developing customized fertilizers. This approach involves in-depth assessment of inherent soil fertility, on-farm evaluation of crop responses to nutrients and use of geospatial technologies for scaling recommendations.

But even with the opportunities that the private sector can unlock, the unwavering support of the public sector to meet the needs of smallholder farmers cannot be disregarded.

The Government, for instance has put in place policies aimed at improving access to credit facilities, such as the establishment of the Agricultural Finance Corporation, which provides loans to smallholder farmers at affordable rates.

True progress in the agricultural sector not only depends on the smallholder farmers ability to access a livelihood but also their ability to control it. It means empowering them to take control of their farms and increase their productivity, income, and market access, thereby creating profitable enterprises that can sustain the next generation of farmers.

Access to knowledge/ management information for smallholder farmers is crucial to benefit us all.  Research conducted by  Food and Agriculture Organization has demonstrated that smallholder farmers are the force multipliers. Therefore, in terms of the future to advance agriculture, smallholder farmers are the driving force.

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