Thursday, December 10, 2015

Exploring the maize value chain in Laikipia County

By Bob Aston
Maize is among the staple food in Kenya but statistics indicate that production across the country has been steadily declining as many farmers opt to diversify and cultivate other types of crops.
In a good year, the whole of Laikipia County usually realize 1.5 million bags of maize. Communities in the county consume 500,000 bags while farmers sell the surplus. As of December 9, 2015, the county had only realized 785,466 bags of maize.
Farmers at a field day
Mr. James Kamau, Ol-Moran Ward Agriculture officer noted that land under maize cultivation in Ol-Moran Ward has been increasing while production has been declining over the years. The same applies across the county.
Farmers in the county face challenges like high input cost,  frequent drought, substandard inputs, low soil fertility, human-wildlife conflict, lack of access to appropriate information, difficulty in accessing credit facilities, high cost of unskilled labour, pests and diseases, and high post-harvest losses.
To ensure that maize farmers improve their income stream, there is need to enhance coordination of the maize value chain in order to champion the collective interest of the value chain actors.
Why value chain approach is the way to go
The value chain approach enables various actors in the value chain to create a competitive value chain hence contributing to inclusive economic growth. It allows the identification of specific advantage points a long a chain, reducing the average cost per unit by increasing the number of units produced.
Value chain approach builds internal capacity to address value chain constraints. A strong value chain facilitates access to inputs, improves access to financial services, enhances flow of information, ensures improved market access for farmers, and promotes value addition.
It offers an opportunity to expand the financing opportunities for agriculture, improve efficiency and repayments in financing, and consolidate value chain linkages among participants in the chain.
It also seeks to understand the business, risk tolerance level, environmental factors, and other such non-financial determinants.Farmers understand consumers’ needs and vice versa thus rather than focusing profit on one or two links all the actors in the value chain benefits.
Maize value Chain training
Farmer training on value chain approach is important in ensuring that they play an active role and they realize higher income. Many organizations have been at the forefront of ensuring farmers are capacity built on the issue.
In Laikipia County, the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries held a two-day workshop on Maize Value Chain at Olivia Court Motel, Sipili in Laikipia West Sub County on November 25-26, 2015.
A total of 85 farmers drawn from Ol-Moran Ward attended the workshop.  Its aim was to enhance farmer’s production skills on maize value chain, to share production and marketing experiences, to enhance systematic record keeping by maize farmers, to improve cereals aggregation and to reduce post-harvest grain losses.
Such trainings usually go a long way in empowering farmers and equipping them with necessary skills and information that can help them tap into various opportunities available in the value chain.
What is next after the value chain training?
Mr. Albert Kariuki, a maize farmer from Kabati has been getting an average of 18 bags in a three-acre farm. He noted that the workshop enriched his knowledge on maize farming particularly on soil analysis.
Farmers being trained on Ware housing receipt system
He said that he has been using fertilizer without knowing the required amount, as he has not analyzed his soil. 

This has always resulted to low yields. He is now planning to follow up on the issue to ensure that come next year he will be aware of his plant nutrient requirements and management.

"Determining genuine and licensed dealers of genuine seeds have been a problem for many farmers. Many profit oriented traders have been selling fake maize seeds for unsuspecting farmers," said Kariuki.
Mrs. Rahab Wanjiku has been cultivating maize in a 5-acre piece of land. She noted that learning about maize production practices and management enabled her to realize that thinning is important in realizing the right plant population per acre thus improving her yields.
Rahab used to plant more than three seeds per hole. This used to lead to poor growth due to competition for vital nutrients.
She said that she did not know that she could practice rouging as an effective way of disease and pest control method at early stages of infestation, which would in return save her money, which she would have used to purchase fungicides and pesticides as well.  
Mr. Joseph Ngundi, a member of Sipili Cereal Bank said that he has not been keeping farm records. Knowing whether he has been making a profit or loss has been a problem.
He said that learning about record keeping systems like Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS-Kenya) enlightened him and he now understands the importance of record keeping as an important tool in agribusiness.
He said that it would now be easier to know profitable enterprises and the ones “eating” into his profit margin.
Mr. Ngundi said that as a member of Sipili Cereal Bank the training on Warehousing Receipting System (WRS) was of immense benefit to them, as they now know certification requirements.
He appreciated the fact that once they receive certification, farmers will be able to access bank loans with ease without having to sell their cereals in the warehouse until the price improves.

"Warehousing receipt system will greatly help farmers to have a bargaining power and sell maize at high prices to the millers and schools without middlemen making huge profit out of the poor maize farmers," said Mr. Ngundi.
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