A World Bank report released last Wednesday says failure to meet the marketing needs of farmers is pushing many young Kenyans to abandon agriculture head to urban areas in search of employment, leaving the task of feeding the country to the less active, aging population.
The collapse of the marketing agencies has also seen commercial banks avoid lending to farmers for fear of non-repayment.
The Kenya Economic Update further blames the “death” of marketing co-operatives on the decline in family farming and proposes a number of measures to increase the output of the sector, including re-investment in the co-operatives.
“Family farming is in decline as a share of employment in Kenya, and it remains the main livelihood for 46 per cent of working Kenyans. The fact that nearly half of working Kenyans are on family farms urges strongly for a renewed effort to improve the productivity of smallholder agriculture. The broad formula for making small farms more productive includes improving the institutions relevant to smallholder agriculture,” reads the report in part.
Agricultural marketing co-operatives have seen their impact decline as a result of mismanagement and corruption, causing some of them to collapse and leave farmers to their own devices when it comes to negotiating market prices.
The coffee milling and marketing agency, the Kenya Planters Co-operative Union (KPCU) is currently under receivership. Its operations have been closed since 2009 due to a management crisis.
The Kenya Pyrethrum Board faces similar problems.
Kenya Co-operative Creameries was only revived in 2003 under a new name after being shut down for years.
The Kenya Meat Commission was re-opened in 2006 after being closed for 15 years.
The agencies have all been faulted for failing to meet the marketing needs for farmers due to their on-and-off operations.
According to Tegemeo Institute, an affiliate of Egerton University, farmers marketing associations are indispensable to securing the best commodity prices for farmers and giving them a voice in policy making.
“Agricultural marketing societies are part of collective action, which is viewed as the best avenue to represent the interests of farmers in terms of giving them a voice in policy issues and helping them benefit from economies of scale in purchasing inputs, marketing, storage and transportation,” said Lilian Kirimi, a senior research fellow at the institute.
Dr Kirimi said the associations provide a forum for disseminating information and training as well as helping farmers access financial and extension services.
Dr George Njenga, deputy vice-chancellor of Strathmore University, says the void left by agricultural marketing societies has denied mall-scale farmers access to the financing necessary to increase the productivity of family farms.
“The banks will not take the risk of lending money to farmers with only an uncertain hope of selling their products. In Europe, farmers approach banks through marketers,” says Dr Njenga.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that smallholder farms on average account for 74 per cent of the total produce sold to marketing boards, an indication that a majority of small-scale farmers rely on marketing bodies to sell their products.
In addition, the World Bank report urges land reforms recommended in the Constitution to reduce the number of land ownership disputes in rural areas and raise productivity on family farms.
SOURCE : Sunday Nation.