COVID-19: Agriculture in East Africa takes a hit

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has severely impacted economic activities in Africa’s Rwanda. Agriculture is one of them.

Despite official claims that agriculture must continue even with restrictions in place to curb the COVID-19 spread, farmers have been facing difficulties.

Jeremie Ruhirwa, a Rwandan agro-dealer could not buy di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizer, despite multiple efforts.

“Inputs are prepaid to an accredited wholesaler. I traveled around an hour on my motorcycle to get to the office, but it was closed. I called up their employees, but they could not come due to lack of public transport,” he said.

People who needed DAP were resorting to other fertilizers potentially harmful to their crops, he added.

In principle, services including veterinary pharmacies, livestock feeds, fertilizers, harvesting, transportation and trading of farm produce, agriculture extension services, and agro-processing, as well as marketing of processed foods and beverages, come under essential services.

“Essential services continue to be delivered so that food chain is not disrupted,” a statement signed by Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Rwanda, read.

Despite guidelines, experts said the ban on movement has affected multiple sectors, including agriculture.

“Some people earn from non-agricultural businesses to get investment, which is now shut. Others who sent money to their relatives for agricultural purposes are now using it for their own survival. Most fertilizers and seeds retailers use public transport, which is currently unavailable,” said Teddy Kaberuka, an economist.

According to Africa Agriculture Status Report 2018, about 70 percent of the continent’s population work as smallholder farmers on land less than two hectares. The lockdown has dealt the most severe blow to them.

“The money I earned from cleaning at a school used to help me cultivate crops. But schools are now shut and I am unable to earn. I don’t have the money to get seeds and fertilizers,” said Theogene Bahanugira, a smallholder farmer.

“We employ several daily wagers but have stopped in lieu of social distancing measures. When I wanted to transport bean stakes for my farm, I was told that I will have to get permission for the same. So I decided to hire people to do the job. This increased the cost of production,” Joseph Gafaranga, farmer and secretary-general, Imbaraga Farmers Organization said.

To cope with the challenges, Director-General of Rwanda Agricultural Board, Karangwa Patrick, advised farmers to shift to mechanized farming.

“A tractor is more affordable. Most providers charge around 100,000 Rwandan Franc (FRw) ($110) per hectare, while you may need 150 people for a hectare, which may cost you over FRw 180,000 ($190). We have over 115 tractors countrywide owned by private companies,” he said.

However, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, QU Dongyu said on March 28 that restrictions of movement may impede farming processing.

Shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input could also affect agricultural production.

Story by:  Christophe Hitayezu

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New project for EAC farmers launched

26 Feb 2020 , ,

Despite the integration of 6 economies in the East African Community (EAC), many  Small -scale farmers especially women have for so long not felt the impact of the Integration on their Livelihood.

The problem has been squired on poor information flow related to markets available for agricultural producers and the economic opportunities the EAC Integration offers to smallholder farmers.

It’s against this background that small-scale farmers from Uganda and Kenya with support from Development partners  have launched  an integrated Information Communication Technology project that will help farmers to address the challenge of Information flow related  to agricultural products and the economic potential of the integration among  the EAC Countries, majorly Uganda and Kenya

Under the project code-named Kilimo Mart Application, an ICT application will be developed to aid farmers to share information using Information Communication technology gadgets such as Mobile phones.

By using the application, farmers will be in a position to access information related to markets for their products.

According to Andrew Adem the  Programs Manager of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda,  if the application is well embraced by the sector holders it will open many Agro-business opportunities to the small farmers in the East African region.

“ESAFF Uganda in partnership with Kenya Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (KESSFF) and with support from Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa( IIDEA), GIZ and the EAC will be implementing a project that will boost trade opportunities for agricultural products and services through promoting small-scale farmers’ access to markets and information in East Africa.

“This will create market opportunities for small-scale farmers and consumers to utilize the current trade prospects and share agricultural information using ICT,” said Adem during the on-line launch of the project at the ESAFF Uganda offices in Kampala.

Adem added that the project will play a very vital role in empowering women small -scale farmers hence improving household livelihood.

The Kilimo Mart Application is a 12 months project that will be jointly implemented by ESAFF Uganda and KESSFF with support from Development partners such as the African Union, GIZ,  IIDEA among others.

Why farming communities are coming up with the marketing application?

It’s believed that although the East African Community has a population of about 146 million people, the potential consumers of Agricultural related products alongside those of the Common Market for the Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), farmers are not feeling the economic benefits of such integration.

Margaret Masudio a small scale farmer from Adjumani district said the project will provide an opportunity for small-scale farmers who cannot access markets to access them considering that cooperatives, that used to help them in marketing collapsed.

She added that the EAC integration should present an opportunity to share market information and cross border trade.

Other farmers from Uganda said that  East African Members states should ensure that smallholder farmers tap into the opportunities that come alongside with the regional economic integration.

Masudio observed that many smallholder farmers are not aware of the regional integration which prevents them from tapping into the wider opportunities.


Improving small-scale farmer income is vital to achieving food security

11 Nov 2019

achieving 100 per cent food and nutrition security in Kenya requires optimal investment in transforming the country’s agriculture sector into a modern, vibrant and profitable national undertaking.

Of significance is the role of the small-scale farmer in the whole equation.

To transform farming in Kenya, we have to empower small-scale agricultural producers to generate sustainable income and livelihood from crops, livestock and fisheries. This means allocating resources to areas where maximum impact will be felt along the entire agriculture value chain. Priority should be given to projects that boost productivity and unlock value addition opportunities such as processing. The road map for transforming Kenya’s agriculture sector is clearly articulated in the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS 2019-2029), which offers a comprehensive view of how the country aims to transform and modernize the sector. This should be read together with the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) outlining how the strategy will be funded.

According to NAIP, the implementation of ASTGS will cost between Ksh 400-440 billion in the five years to 2024. Of this, Ksh 230 billion will be directly channeled through the ministry of agriculture. The rest will be allocated to other government agencies providing support infrastructure like roads and energy.

This is indeed a colossal amount of money,. Notably, the government plans to finance only 20 per cent of the estimated cost, with the balance sourced from the private sector. In fact, ASTGS emphasizes that public-private partnerships (PPPs) will be critical in delivering successful outcomes.

However, given risks like perennial drought, high cost of inputs and cheap imports plaguing the sector, will private investors play ball? What is in it for them? Where does the small-scale farmer come into the picture? And where will all this money be going?

The transformation strategy identifies six flagships four of which directly touch on improving small-scale farmer incomes and increasing agricultural output and value addition. The key to success is on-boarding the private sector as a driver of the value addition process which will in turn stimulate production by both small and large-scale farmers.

Available estimates show 75 per cent of the food produced in Kenya is consumed at the household level. This is a strong indicator of the potential for creating sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers who account for the bulk of the country’s crop, livestock and fisheries production.

Under Flagship 1, for instance, the government plans to boost the incomes of 1 million small-scale producers of crops, livestock and fisheries. This partly involves strengthening the agro-processing and value addition capacity of over 1,000 farmer-facing SMEs.

There are opportunities here for private sector. Of the Ksh 230 billion to be channeled directly through the ministry of agriculture, for instance, about half of it will go into putting up agro-processing hubs mostly factories, with private sector playing a leading role.

The proposed agro-processing hubs, to be established across the country, will open opportunities for small scale farmers to ramp up production to meet demand for produce by processors, thus earning more money. Small-scale farmers, if properly integrated into the value chain, are critical to the sustainability of Kenya’s agriculture sector, and changing the way we do farming in this country.

The ideal starting point is creating incentives for small-scale producers to expand production and partner with processors and other players in the value addition chain. From a private investor perspective, reliable supply of produce is vital to sustaining value addition activities such as processing.

Efficient support infrastructure such as roads (linking farms to factories and markets) and energy (powering processing, storage facilities) must also be in place.

The transformation and growth strategy also emphasizes capacity building through transfer of knowledge and skills, research and adoption of climate-smart farming. Again, opportunities for private sector players such as ICT firms in a data-driven agricultural environment are immense.

All these interventions if well executed will have a strong, positive bearing on small-scale farmers by increasing efficiency and returns. The government should however explore tax incentives for farmers, processors and input suppliers to make agriculture more attractive. Unfavorable trade terms that fuel the influx of cheap food imports into the domestic market should also be tackled.

In addition, considering the economic, fiscal and social impact of ASTGS, there is need for comprehensive stakeholder involvement at every level of the implementation process. Also, the ministry of agriculture needs to roll out an aggressive awareness campaign targeting all actors in the value chain

Written by: Kingori Chotto

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Government to invest more in agriculture

24 Sep 2019

The  government has invested Sh.140 million in procuring milk coolers as part of measures to improve smallholder dairy farming.

The  Agriculture Cabinet  Secretary (CS), Mwangi Kiunjuri has at the same time said a task force has been appointed to look into challenges facing dairy farmers.

He said 14 milk coolers have been bought for small scale dairy farmers in Trans Nzoia County to help farmers preserve their milk. Kiunjuri  who  was  speaking at Ngonyek when he commissioned a milk cooler for Koitogos Dynamic Dairy Co-operative society said that the task force will also look at the marketing challenges facing milk farmers and review the new policy that prohibits farmers from hawking milk.

He said the government’s objective is to help her people get better services and added that his ministry was working on ways of ensuring that a farmer gets value for his money through modern technology.

“We have built a bull station at Sh.900 million with the aim of getting better breeds and improved production and the price is just Sh200 for the semen,” he said. He said Sh.400million has been set aside to establish an embryo transplant kitty that will see farmers get the sex of the animals they wish to have.

Kiunjuri also issued Sh.5.2 million cheques to farmer groups from the smallholder dairy commercialization programme.

The beneficiary farmer groups will engage in fodder production and marketing of their produce. Out of 12 groups that benefited today from the smallholder dairy commercialization programme, at least nine ventured into fodder production and only two in marketing.

Earlier on, governor Patrick Khaemba  asked the government to turn its attention to maize production.

Khaemba said that challenges facing maize farmers all the way from production to harvesting had been solved by both the devolved unit and the national government. He  asked the National government to revive the small-scale farming equipment programme to reduce the cost of production.

“Farmers have been faced with high production challenges to post-harvest losses and we have not been able to solve their problems because of low funding,” he said. He added, “As government we should place a zero rate duty on hermetic bags to avoid the high levels of aflatoxin.”

According to Khaemba, though erratic climatic weather conditions destabilized farmers at the beginning of the year, the region is expecting a bumper harvest this year.

By  Pauline  Ikanda

Kenyan smallholder farmers root for value addition to boost incomes

20 Aug 2019

Ephraim Maina, a Kenyan kales farmer, sells a bundle of the green vegetables for 50 shillings ($0.5) during the low supply drought season often running from November to early April.

The small-scale farmer, who is based in Nakuru County, trades the similar quantity for 0.1 dollar after the rains come and the market is flooded with plenty of supply.
“When you sell at 0.1 dollars, you are not talking about profits. You are just giving it away instead of seeing it go to waste,” said Maina. “But I would be maintaining the same profit or even make more if I had a means of adding value to it and export it to other countries like Netherlands or China,” he added.

When there is a glut, he would collect the kales, process them, hoard them and sell them at a better price, especially during drought when the vegetables are scarce, posed the farmer in his 50s.
He hopes for a training on processing of kales into multiple products and a grant to buy machines to start off. “Our government can engage Chinese experts to train Kenyan farmers in the rural areas since China has advanced technology and conducts research on food production. And through the scientists, we can access Chinese market,” noted the farmer.
Sharon Cheruto, who has practiced potato farming in Nakuru County for the past four years, shares the same burden of selling the produce at a loss during high supply season.
“Brokers buy a 120 kg sack of potatoes for 8 dollars when many farmers are harvesting at the same time and they have a choice of whom to buy from. They set the price and you have no bargaining power. You’d rather sell at a loss instead of incurring a total loss,” said Cheruto.
The farmer said, she is yearning for skills and information on how to boost her income through adding value to the potatoes instead of selling them raw.
“The government should make an effort to help farmers like me make good profits from our farming. We hear through the radio, government officials asking farmers to add value to their produce to earn a good income throughout the year, but how can we do that if we don’t have the skills and information on how to do so?” posed Cheruto.
Experts observe that many farmers in Kenya continue to reel in poverty as they are unable to make good returns since they sell raw perishable produce.
“For instance, a farmer can harvest all the kales when there is plenty in the market and process it to sell it when the season is good instead of selling it at a throw away price,” said Kennedy Sigei, an agricultural economist.
“It not just about lost income but lost inputs taking into account there is use of fertilizer, pesticides and even labor,” he added. The Kenyan government foresees boosting agricultural productivity and farmers’ income through processing of farm produce for local and export market.
This aspiration is highlighted in the 2019-2029 Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) by Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation where the government outlines plans for establishing six agro-processing hubs to assist farmers in adding value to their produce. 

Original article

New project to help smallholder farmers mechanise rolled out

19 Aug 2019

Kenya has embarked on an ambitious plan to mechanise agriculture in a bid to cut cost of labour and improve productivity.

The move, which is targeting small-scale farmers, is a joint initiative between the government of Kenya and South Korea under the Korea Africa Food and Agricultural corporation initiative (KAFACI) project.

The project is aimed at lifting the current mechanisation rate of 30 percent to at least 40 percent in he coming years.

Mechanisation remains a big challenge to farmers, especially smallholders.

“What this initiative is looking at is to mechanise agriculture in the country by coming up with the best technology that can work for small-scale holders given that most of their farms are too small, restricting the movement of bigger machineries,” says Noah Wawire, director at the Agricultural Mechanisation Research Institute.

Dr Wawire said they are conducting research with the Korean Rural Development Administration, which is funding the project, to learn from the best practices in the Asian country.

Director General of the Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation, Eliud Kireger said the cost of acquiring machine has been a major hindrance to small-scale farmers.

Richard Kanui, engineering secretary at the state department of agriculture, said the government will open up aggregation centres for machines where farmers can lease at affordable rates.

“We have already identified 10 places where we are starting a pilot phase of aggregation centres where farmers can go and get the machine that they want to use and they can lease it at an affordable cost,” said Mr Kanui.

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Mechanization key to achieve food security, KALRO

19 Aug 2019

Low  levels of agriculture mechanization, which stands at a paltry 30 percent has contributed to food insecurity in the country.

The  Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Director General (DG), Dr. Eliud Kireger said  in  Kenya the level of agricultural mechanization was very low especially in small scale farming.

Speaking  at the KALRO headquarters on Monday, during a conference on the Baseline of Agricultural mechanization in Africa, Dr. Kireger  said that 80 percent of our farms are small and thus require unique and creative equipment to mechanize.

“When  we talk of mechanization people think of big tractors but most farmers in Kenya operate one acre and below where you cannot use a tractor and this calls for appropriate mechanization for these sizes of land,” he said.

The  DG  added that through a project called Korea-Africa Food and Agricultural Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) they are working on a program on how to improve mechanization in Kenya by borrowing lessons from Korea, since their size of farms is more or less the same as in Kenya.

“We have 18 African countries participating in this event and we are lucky as Kenya since we have a policy on mechanization, which many countries don’t have and we are hoping to hinge on that policy to guide us on mechanization of our faming system,” he said.

He highlighted that the main impediment to mechanization in Kenya is the cost of the machinery, inappropriateness of the machines that we have, in that some are not serviceable due to lack of spare parts.

“Since the government removed the tax on some of the tractors we expect that farmers will be able to pick it up and import the machines that we use. Fabrication of the farm machines here in Kenya is very low and we believe some of these machines can be made locally at a cheaper cost,” said Dr. Kireger.

Dr. Kireger explained that the collaboration they have with Korea is on research and ways in which the country can be able to fabricate machines suited for the local small holder farmers.

“We are encouraging farmers and youths to form Saccos and buy the equipment through the various funding mechanisms that are available and they can be leasing the equipment to the farmers,” he advised.

On  his part, Agricultural Mechanization Research Institute (AMRI) Director, Dr. Noah Wawire said that in 2016 they established  the status of mechanization on nine value chains, in local small and large scale farmers and realized that  the levels were very low.

“The highest mechanization we found was in wheat which was at around 65 percent and coffee was the least mechanized at eight percent,” explained Dr. Wawire.

The Director highlighted that low levels of the mechanization means that there is a lot of demand on human labour which is very expensive and they are hoping to improve the level of mechanization from 30 percent to at least 40 percent in the short term.

“Maize  farming in Kenya is highly mechanized which we realized is not efficient and we need more research to see how we can improve the utilization of those machines,” he said.

At  the same time, the  Korean Institute of Agricultural Sciences Senior Researcher, Dr. Young Choi said that they are working closely with Kenya in rice breeding project, agricultural mechanization, post-harvest genetic resources and next year they will launch a new project, which will include pest control and seed dissemination.

Dr. Choi said that they are also focusing on capacity building and one young Kenyan scientist will be visiting Korea to conduct some research cooperation project which will last for six months.

The scientists opined that mechanization will help the country achieve one of the Big 4 agenda goals of food security.

By  Joseph  Ng’ang’a

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Conference on Africa’s Agricultural Productivity

30 Jul 2019

“Exploring the transformations, alignments to elevate Africa’s food production capacity.”
The objective of this conference is to map out a route in which Africa can attain 100% food security, and delegates shall engage in deeper conversations and share impactful and replicable research based solutions that will lead to increase in food productivity in effort to achieve zero hunger in the continent.

Date: 08-09 Oct 2019

Venue: KALRO Headquarters, NairobiKenya

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