Value Addition to Boost Farmer Revenues

Published on 23rd June 2008

Samuel Njue (in the foreground)
Smallholder farmers and poor households have been hard hit by the prevailing food crisis and inflationary trends in various African countries like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mauritania. Monicah Kimeu of The African Executive met Samuel Njue, a smallholder farmer based in Embu-Kenya and filed this story.

What activities do you do as a farmer?

I grow crops such as maize, beans, mangoes, coffee and amaranth grain. I also convene farmer meetings twice a month to discuss various farming issues such as the right seeds to plant in a given area, chemical stewardship, profit making and identifying markets in a bid to add value to the whole agricultural process. In a nut shell, I encourage other farmers to take farming as a business entity.

How did you become a farmer?

When I was young, my father often took me to agricultural shows and trade fairs. This heightened my interest in the field. In addition, proceeds from my father's farm financed my education right from the basic level to university. Seeing the potential in agriculture, I pursued the subject at university level and became an agricultural officer under the Ministry of Agriculture in Kangundo-Kenya for more than 10 years.

During this period, I noticed that  cotton farmers were making very little profit from their farming. I asked myself: what can the farmers do to increase their income? I came across another group of farmers in Machakos district who had plenty of mangoes but were not selling them at a competitive price.A lot of their  mangoes went to waste because very little of the harvest is consumed at family level. It was then that I decided seeking ways to enable such farmers make their farming profitable through such aspects as value addition.

Value addition. What does this mean?

Take mangoes or passion fruits for example. I crush and sieve them to remove the seeds and remain with the juice. I then dilute the juice to customer taste and bottle it. Value addition therefore comes in when I move from just selling the mangoes from the tree to turrning the mangoes into a product that can be sold at a slightly higher price. That is value addition.

What can ignite farmers to add value to what they do?

Introduction of exchange programs for farmers. During my time as an agricultural officer in Kangundo, there was a farmer exchange program where farmers from Israel would come to Kenya to join our farmers and observe what they were doing in their farms for a few weeks. The Israelis then advised the farmers accordingly. In turn, Kenyan poultry farmers went to Israel to see what poultry farmers in Israel were doing. When they came back they were more equipped. Before the program, they would use deep litter system (25ft by 100 ft has a maximum occupancy of 100 chicks) for their poultry. This  occupied a lot of space. They however learnt the batter system in Israel where the same space could accomodate 1000 chicks. Such is the knowledge that exchange programs facilitate and therefore it becomes easy for the farmer to think business and add value to his farming.

Why should farmers pursue commercialization ?

Agricultural commercialization is what our farmers should aspire to indulge in. When farmers think in-terms of business, they will strategise to attract consumers and how to get a wider market for their produce. This will inform what to grow  and what other activities to engage in order to generate revenue. If farmers can crave for profit, that in itself is an incentive to producing more. This will automatically spur them to to look for farm inputs (such as fertilizer) and farming practices that will boost their yields. Consequently, with sufficient local supply, the country could cut on imports and delve into exporting the surplus.

Kenya has a lot of mangoes, for example, but the country imports juice from South Africa and Saudi Arabia. Farmers can tap into this gap if they think outside the box. However, some policies and international agreements impede commercialization at a national level. Take coffee for example, we produce good quality coffee; sell it in large quantities only to buy it back at a very high cost for small quantities.

What do you think about Africa's Agriculture?

Africans have a lot to exchange especially at the seed level. I am sure there are crops that can be borrowed from Tanzania or Rwanda. We can pick from each other what is good and even from elsewhere, and synchronize with the world, but not GMO’s. At international level, we can ‘barter.’  We can exchange what we have fro something that we do not have. This will save us from the ever fluctuating  currencies. That is where we get stuck. America will ask for the dollar yet compared to the dollar, our shilling is weak. If we exchange, prices can be standardized and this would make life easier.

What did you learn from the Pan African Workshop for Smallholder Farmers held by the Inter Region Economic Network last month in Kenya?

There is need for a farmers' network. Farmers should form clubs from where they can brainstorm on issues that appertain to value addition and business. Rich people have golf clubs where they pass time, discuss bussiness and make million dollar deals. Look at our farmers. They work all day in their farms, retire to their homes and wake up to the same farming routine.To break this cycle, farmers should be encouraged to form networks or associations where they can set the brainstorm on challenges facing them, update themselves on the latest farming trends and technology and craft a way forward out of their farming impasse. I also learnt that important information from research never reaches the farmer. They thus remain with their traditional farming methods. There is need for capacity building and awareness creation. Farmers should also be proactive and look for information necessary for improvement.The networking facilitated by the workshop was very fruitful. I met a colleague from Nigeria who told me that there are 12 products that can be made from cassava, yet in Kenya, it is eaten raw or boiled giving back little.

What is your take on the current food crisis and the role of the smallholder farmer?

The government is to blame for the current crisis due to neglect. There is need for good food policy.  There was a program called Guaranteed Minimum Returns way back in the 70’s, where if you planted a certain amount of coffee, you were guaranteed to get minimum returns. This arrangement was under the Agricultural Finance Co-operation but politics ruined it. Such are the policies that we need for agriculture to thrive. Farmers are also partly to blame for the food crisis. Most farmers in Kenya planted late or used poor seeds.

You grow amaranth. What can you tell farmers about the crop?

The amaranth plant
Amaranth (mchicha in Kiswahili ) has been cultivated as a grain for 8000 years. In Kenya, it  is an emerging crop. Its seeds are used as a grain and leaves a vegetable. It has medicinal properties, high nutritional value and high returns to the farmer per unit area. Amaranth serves both human and industrial needs. For humans, it has proteins that are not available in other plants, high vitamins, amino acids and oil that boosts immunity amongst HIV/AIDS patients. The oil is also used in computer engineering. Amaranth flour is already in the shops but not in large amounts. Kenyan farmers should know that Kenyans are progressively changing their diets and adapting to the natural foods. They should foresee the kind of impact Amaranth has.

How should African governments handle the current food crisis ?

African governments ought to encourage their citizens to rethink their definition of food. Food is not just maize, rice and wheat. Amaranth is food. African citizens therefore ought to popularise and make use of their traditional dishes such as sorghum and millet. As much as quantity deals with shortage, quality improves health. Not all Africa is experiencing food shortage. African governments ought to open up their borders and reduce intra-Africa trade tarriffs to enable food to circulate within Africa.

What is your advice to the African youth and their perception on farming?

The youth should not shun agriculture.The should not cry foul due to lack of jobs while opportunities exist in agriculture. They should exploit the current food deficit to offer solutions that will in turn make them earn revenue. The youth need to know that they are more equipped than old people. They have the energy and this should translate to money.

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