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LETTER: Agriculture is crucial in tackling poverty

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President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Among the President’s Big Four agenda is agriculture, which is facing a three-fold challenge. At the same time, to feed more mouths and to be successful in reducing poverty agriculture must be environmentally adapted to contribute in reducing poverty.

Agriculture has a key role to play in food security throughout the country and lifting people out of poverty, but at the same time there are a number of challenges. These include a continually growing population with new demands for food, fuel and raw materials, plus the fact that a switch to more sustainable and climate-smart farming methods is needed.

The whole chain from field to table needs to be more resource-efficient with reduced levels of waste. Food security naturally involves fair distribution, the food produced must be made available to those who need it most, and productivity and food quality in areas where people are currently suffering from hunger, malnutrition and poverty must be improved in a sustainable manner.

Three out of four of these people live in rural areas and the vast majority of them make a living from agriculture or occupations linked to agriculture.

However, production is seldom sufficient to avoid hunger and malnutrition. This creates negative spirals. Malnutrition impairs people’s physical capability and increases susceptibility to illness, which in turn reduces their facilities to look after the family farm in the best way, for instance.

Not only do several hundred million people go to bed hungry every day; more people are suffering from a lack of micronutrients and affected by obesity in Kenya. In other words, sustainable consumption is an essential issue for both rich and poor, in the country.

The investments in agriculture must also have an even clearer gender equality perspective and give women the same access to production resources as men, such increased gender awareness can lead to effective poverty reduction and increase both sustainability and productivity in agriculture.

The differences in conditions between farmers in industrialized countries and developing countries is a matter of organization, access to effective advice, level of education, means to obtain financial services, proximity to markets and access to technology and input goods. More people work within agriculture in low-income areas in part due to the fact that agriculture is less mechanized there and labor is cheaper.

The role of women within agriculture and food production is also increasing in most parts of the country. Men are increasingly choosing to move to the cities.

As a result, an ever greater share of responsibility for agricultural activities falls to the women; we are seeing the feminization of agriculture. Better equality within agriculture would also involve other gains, in addition to women’s rights being strengthened.

The whole family often benefits from women achieving enhanced status and power within the family. Women generally allocate more money for food, healthcare and education. This gives children better access to nutritious food and girls get a better education.

One way to improve the economic conditions for small-scale agriculture and rural areas would be to develop activities; including processing of foodstuffs. One strategy to accomplish this is to focus on local investments within storage, processing, packaging and sales of the products.

Simple things such as a drying plant or facilities for packing fruit and vegetables in a marketable way can give smallholders new income, which yields profitability for their activities. However, small-scale farmers mostly lack access to the necessary technology, capital and financial services.

Many live in remote and poor areas where lack of infrastructure and long distances to markets hamper sales and set-up of food processing activities. Farmers who have small margins often prefer to save any profits as insurance to be used in the event of a crisis rather than invest the money. Family farms in Kenya often have little potential for obtaining credit.

One way to increase access to credit is for smallholders to come together and set up saving and loan groups. Such farms often have need of other forms of financial services such as insurance. Other types of networks like producer cooperatives can promote investments and processing of foodstuffs.

Small-scale agriculture often has limited scope for development due to lack of land or uncertain land rights. When farmers do not know if they will get to farm the land in the future, this generally reduces interest in making investments. Another reason is that farmers often lease or have permission to use land owned by larger landowners.

Ndirangu Ngunjiri, managing partner,, Watermark Consultants

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