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Local links best weapon against hunger



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The government has food security as a pillar in its Big Four Agenda.

If it is that serious about food security, then its Big Four implementing agencies must consider partnerships with local agricultural and development organisations that have already deeply invested in our farming communities.

In his State of the Nation address earlier this month, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a crucial recognition.

He emphasised that ongoing agricultural reforms, in service of the agenda, were ‘farmer-centric’ and sought to “reduce the cost of food, increase agricultural value-addition and offer incentives for farming”.

Indubitably, Kenya’s smallholder farmers are the key in delivering food security, at any measure. And governments, donor organisations and development institutions are all in agreement of this fact.

In “Feed Africa”, a seminal roadmap for agricultural transformation and food security, the African Development Bank (AfDB) advises governments to place small-scale farmers at the forefront of reforms.

It calls for them to not only include but also collaborate with various stakeholders in national agricultural systems — such as development partners, the private sector, community organisations, and civil society.

Partnering with grassroots organisations gives policymakers a direct connection to farmers. As major food producers in the country, smallholders need support and resources at their disposal to become more efficient. For example, inputs, such as seed and fertiliser, are notoriously bulky and too expensive for farmers to acquire.

If the government worked with agricultural organisations in the villages to supply or distribute inputs, it could guarantee that smallholders receive them, with the associated costs of production lowering overall food prices as the reforms intend.

The Agricultural Sector Growth and Transformation Strategy (ASGTS), which is under review, is how the government intends to operationalise the food security mandate.

The ASGTS is aimed at increasing smallholder incomes, boosting agricultural production and improving food resilience in the nation’s homes. Implementing the strategy will, undoubtedly, be a major logistical exercise.

About 75 per cent of Kenya’s working population are small-scale farmers dispersed across the 47 counties. Interventions, even at the county level, need a tailored approach to succeed.

Working with organisations that have similar objectives and established relationships with farming communities would allow government agencies to seamlessly plug into the sectoral ecosystem, at the grassroots, encouraging outcomes.

If implementers of the ASGTS were to collaborate with such organisations, they could make these long-established relationships and knowledge available to encourage reforms.

National programmes can then be tailored to suit local conditions, ensuring efficacy in the long run, while monitoring, in partnership with these groups, can confirm that outcomes are met, even at the grassroots.

Initiatives such as those by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with USAid in western Kenya prove that governments can get results when they join forces with local organisations.

The project trains groups of smallholders, who are members of 79 hyper-local organisations, on improved farming methods and minimising post-harvest losses.

They then guarantee a market for harvests with farmers combining their produce and selling on to the WFP and the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in bulk.

Working with similar models, the government can ensure that farmers reach new markets and, at the same time, sell produce at a higher price.

However, to organise farmers, officials need to work with bodies that are based in, or have established trust with, farming communities.

Conversations on realising food security in Kenya, beyond policy mandates, have already aligned on the importance of the public-private partnership nexus.

In his opening remarks at last year’s Future of Food Conference in Nairobi, Agriculture and Irrigation Chief Administrative Secretary Andrew Tuimur noted that “farming is privately driven and the government’s role is only to facilitate it”.

In accelerating the transformation of the national agriculture sector and, consequently, ensure food security for all Kenyans, Dr Tuimur’s words need to be top of the mind.

Enabling growth in farming means working with the wider ecosystem and its stakeholders, in partnership, to deliver on promises made.

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