Monday, October 31, 2016

Embracing agribusiness: A catalyst for smallholder farmer’s empowerment

By Bob Aston
Three years ago Mr. Eliud Kirema's fascination with agribusiness made him to leave Nairobi. He returned to Meru to start farming in his 6-acre piece of land. He expected to make huge profits but that has never been the case.
Low farm incomes made him to deliberate on how he would seek for agribusiness training.  An opportunity soon arose when he heard from a friend about an agribusiness training organized by Sokopepe on October 28, 2016 at M.C.K Kalithiria Church in Tigania West. He decided to attend the training to see if he could learn more about agribusiness.
Mr. Gachara Gikungu training farmers on agribusiness

Armed with a notebook and a pen, he took a vintage position and waited for Mr. Gachara Gikungu from Kilimo Biashara Promoters to begin the training. 

Attending his first agribusiness lesson proved an eye opener for him. He looked solemn and occasionally shook his head in agreement as Mr. Gachara narrated how most farmers sell green maize at Kshs 3 each yet they had labored for close to 4 months. He equated the price of 3 green maize to one lollipop.
His facial expression kept changing depending on the topic of discussion. He laughed nervously when Mr. Gachara remarked that traders who roast maize earn more in a few minutes than what farmers earn from the same crop in 4 months as the traders buy the green maize at Kshs 3 and then sell at Kshs 20 after roasting.
He nodded in agreement as Mr. Gachara narrated how some maize farmers would celebrate at the end of the season when they make kshs. 20,000 yet they did not track their costs and revenues from farming and could as well have made a loss without knowing.
After the training he approached Ms. Dorcas Gachui, Sokopepe’s Production Information Agent (PIA) and inquired how he could join Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS).
He paid the Kshs 500 subscription fee after Ms. Gachui had shown him how to adopt the service. Ms. Gachui informed him that FARMIS would enable him to appreciate farming as a business. The service would enable him to track the performance of his farm enterprises thus enabling him to make informed decision at the end of the season.
Women farmers reading about FARMIS
“I hope through Sokopepe my agribusiness will become more productive and profitable. I now know that I have to be an entrepreneur,” said Mr. Kirema.
Like any other smallholder farmer, Mr. Kirema has been having difficulties accessing various services for his farm enterprises such as adequate finance, functional markets, relevant and timely market information and high quality inputs.
 “I could relate with most of the things that Mr. Gachara taught. It is clear that I have not realized the agribusiness potential of my farm,” said Mr. Kirema.
He has a vague sense of the direction his farm is taking as he has not kept proper records of his beans, maize and soya beans enterprises. He hopes that embracing agribusiness will increase his income and allow him to diversify to livestock farming.
His parting shot is that Sokopepe should continue organizing agribusiness training for smallholder farmers. He reckons that such trainings would enable more farmers to inculcate a culture of record keeping and practice agribusiness.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too

By Bob Aston
"Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too," is the theme of 2016 World Food Day. Msumarini in Kilifi County is today hosting this year’s celebration, which is usually marked on October 16.
This year’s theme looks at how agriculture and food systems need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive, and sustainable. 
The day also focuses on raising awareness about the actions people around the world can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Farmers being trained on Conservation Agriculture
Sokopepe Partnerships and Linkages officer Ms. Judith Nkatha noted that strengthening resilience of smallholder farmers through conservation agriculture could play a transformative role in addressing the impacts of climate change.
"We are helping to enhance food security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reverse the effects of soil degradation caused by mechanical tillage in Meru County,” said Ms. Nkatha.
She said that the pace and severity of climate change risks overwhelming smallholder farmers hence the social enterprise is helping farmers adopt conservation agriculture as a way of combining profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability.
Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and wise use of natural resources. 
It also means reducing food losses before the final product or retail stage through better harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure, market mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), higher temperatures and increase in weather related disasters are affecting the worlds poorest more than others.
FAO estimates that agricultural production must rise by about 60 percent by 2050 to feed a larger population. 
Ms. Nkatha said that Sokopepe is training farmers on best agricultural practices to enable them produce more with less as well as reduce post-harvest losses.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared 16th October as World Food Day to honor the date of the founding of FAO in 1945. 
The day aims to heighten public awareness of world food security and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Increasing opportunities for women farmers

Women play an important role in food production and in achieving greater food security. However, few women have access to land tenure, extension services, finance, education, market, and control of family funds.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.

In Meru County, Sokopepe through its Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) is helping women farmers pull down the barriers that they face. 
Lucy Karimi preparing to take her tomatoes to the market

The innovation is helping women farmers move from subsistence to commercial farming. It is also helping women make right farming decisions for increased production and productivity.
FARMIS is helping women to track their agribusinesses as they perform other household duties. Three women based in Kariene Ward in Imenti Central shared their views on how Sokopepe is helping them reach their potential in farming.
Mrs. Peninah Kinanu said that Sokopepe has enabled her to venture into horticulture farming. She decided to cultivate tomatoes and cabbages in her one-acre piece of land. She said that it is now easier to know whether she is making a profit or loss at the end of each season.
 “Sokopepe has built my confidence as a farmer. I can I now take care of my family from the proceeds that I receive from the farm,” said Mrs. Kinanu.
On her part, Agnes Mwaki almost gave up on farming before a Sokopepe Production Information Agent (PIA) convinced her that FARMIS would help her track all her agribusiness enterprises, schedule different farm events and track all her expenses. She then started cultivating onions, kales, and beetroot.
She said that a PIA visits her farm once a week to check the progress of her crops as well as assist her fill the farm book. She said that when women farmers flourish, families and communities do too.
“I now know how much I am investing in each enterprise and projected income from each crop. I also carry out market survey in order to determine crop prices before planting,” said Mwaki.
On her part, Lucy Karimi said that embracing record keeping through FARMIS enabled her to determine profitable crops and enterprises that were “eating” into her profits.
Last season she planted tomatoes of which she has already harvested 1,000 kgs.  She is selling the tomatoes to her neighbours and other traders.
Sokopepe PIAs training farmers on FARMIS
She said that the extension service provided by PIAs has enabled her to learn about pests and disease control. She is now able to control white flies and aphids in her one-acre farm leading to increased quality yields.
According to a World Bank report titled Levelling the field: improving opportunities for women farmers in Africa, a key hindrance to agricultural development and broader growth is a wide and pervasive gender gap in agricultural productivity. The report argues that tackling the barriers that hold back the productivity of female farmers could both enhance gender equality and usher in broader economic growth.
Sokopepe’s Agribusiness Manager Ms. Hildah Nkirote noted that closing the gender gap in agriculture is important in increasing production and enhancing food security.
She said Sokopepe has increased women participation in crops selection, adoption of agricultural innovations and good management practices, as families are increasingly using the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable.
She said that Sokopepe is working with more than 5,000 women farmers in Meru County through trainings in record keeping, best agricultural practices, market information and linkages, conservation agriculture as well as promotion cultivation of high value crops among women.
“We are now building partnerships with agro-suppliers, agro financiers, extension service providers, and farmers groups to increase opportunities for women farmers,” said Ms. Nkirote.
Ensuring that women have equal access to productive resources is not only increasing agricultural productivity but has also ensured that more women have better control of their economic destinies. 
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