Agricultural Investment in Eastern Kenya

Published on 11th July 2006

Authors:   James Shikwati and Stellah Amuhaya
Pages:      149
Cost:        Kshs 500 (US$10)

Immense potential of profit lies underutilized in African agriculture. Using Eastern Kenya (Ukambani) as a case study, James Shikwati (Director, IREN) and Stellah Amuhaya (Lecturer, University of Nairobi and IREN Academic Advisory Board Member) in Agricultural Investment in Eastern Kenya present the keys to wealth creation through agriculture. The duo discuss ways through which financial institutions, NGOs, think tanks, research institutions, agribusiness, agro-vets, unemployed youth, insurance, transport and communication, government and other sectors can engage rural farmers with a view of increasing their profit while making the farmer wealthy.

The book assesses production, consumption and marketing strategies of low resource farmers, explores constraints affecting them; identifies socio-cultural and economic variables affecting farming and offers strategies for commercial approach to small holder agriculture.

Agriculture is said to be the backbone of most economies in Africa. Paradoxically, most African governments urge their citizens to “go back to the land” and perpetuate the notion that farming is a preserve for retirees. No deliberate effort beyond rhetoric has been put in place to promote farming among low resource populations.

The woes bedeviling low resource farmers have been the subject of many a seminar. Rolls of paper have been churned on crop failure, unreliable rainfall, inadequate finances for purchase of farm inputs, pests, diseases, crop attack by wild animals, small land-size, lack of land entitlement, poor soils, labor shortage, poor farming skills, lack of a good market and unfavorable prices for farm produce. The authors point out that all these offer business opportunities to entrepreneurs.

If business people stopped thinking about low resource farmers as victims and burdens and started recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs, a whole new world of opportunity will open up for them. The world’s most exciting and fastest growing market is at the bottom of the income pyramid.

James Shikwati and  Stellah Amuhaya argue that Makueni, Machakos and Kitui districts of Eastern Kenya offer an annual market opportunity of an estimated Ksh 2.5 billion in seed provision, with  over three quarters of this being cereal seeds. The same region offers a projected output of Kshs 105 billion in livestock production and consumption. These projections exclude demand for other farm inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, animal-feed and veterinary products.

The authors argue that this can be achieved through farmer and multistakeholder linkages in the public and private sector addressing investment in farming inputs, farming skills, credit provision, market information, transport and communication, extension services, land titling, irrigation, quality control of farm inputs, group dynamics, research, insurance, farming technologies and policy change.

Where will farmers in Eastern Kenya get their market? James Shikwati and Stellah Amuhaya don’t leave room for guesswork. They argue that the region is sandwiched by two major cities: Mombasa and Nairobi, which rely on farm produce from Western Kenya and yet Eastern has a comparative advantage in terms of accessibility.

“In order to trigger the engine of productivity among those perceived to be poor, one must ensure that they consume the fuel that will get them moving,” says James Shikwati.

The book discusses ways through which agribusiness can supply repackaged products in order to promote productivity among the low resource farmers. Capacity to consume is created through affordability, access and availability. Partnering with the low resource farmers to innovate and achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where farmers are actively engaged and companies that supply products and services get profit is a healthy way to ensure sustainability.

The authors note that change of attitude is the best way to reenergize rural populations, fight food insecurity, invest in difficult environments and enable farmers become more efficient in both production and consumption. It is not a matter of downloading aid to the afflicted and relegating farming to the retired and illiterate.  According to the authors the low resource farmers in conjunction with the business community hold the key to liberating the continent in terms of food security and development in general.

By Kevin Mwanza
IREN Intern

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