From tea farming in the central region to sugarcane farming in the Western Kenya region, livestock keeping in northern Kenya, maize farming in the north rift and fishing in the Indian Ocean, smallholder producers face more or less the same hurdles to wealth creation.
The good news is that opportunities exist to make farming, including the small-scale types, a profitable venture for anyone. One of the ways of bringing shine to the much neglected sector is by adopting sustainable agribusiness.
Agribusiness is a broad area and covers the entire spectrum of food production with multiple players along the value chain.
It includes farming, the supply of various inputs, distribution, processing, wholesale and retail sales, research and development, marketing and financing as well as the end product: the food on the plate of the consumer.
The key players in the value chain include the farmers, co-operatives, regulators, government agencies, research institutions, companies, business associations, financial institutions, multilateral bodies, civil society, and the academia.
Sustainable agriculture is not singularly fixated on the profit motive. It considers the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of various activities along the value chain.
It supports the local economy through knowledge transfer, job creation, supporting local enterprises and ensuring food safety and security.
The academia can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable agribusiness through carrying out research on new ways of doing agriculture such as better and eco-friendly ways of increasing the soil fertility, increasing animal produce, among other things.
There are various businesses that do a lot with regard to promoting sustainable and inclusive agriculture. There is also a need for improvement in infrastructure, climate change mitigation and adaptation, research and extension, value addition and skills upgrading.
As long as funding remains limited or is diverted by officials, farming will remain unattractive and farmers will continue to suffer in spite of their toil. Lack of trust across the value chain is another issue with many farmers perceiving middlemen as exploiters.
The other key aspect is the imbalance of trade between Kenya and its trading partners. Take for instance, coffee and tea which are grossly underpriced with farmers barely meeting the cost of their investment.
Yet the same commodities fetch better prices once they leave the farmers’ hands.
This brings me to my last point. The widespread failure to add value to farmers’ produce denies producers the opportunity to earn the true value of their produce.
It also denies local entrepreneurs and budding industrialists the opportunity to grow new lines of business and create jobs for many jobless Kenyans.
Value addition requires policy intervention through a favourable tax regime, lower cost of power, improved infrastructure and government commitment to find markets outside its borders.
Boomsma is the project co-ordinator, Sustainable Inclusive Business Initiatives, a partnership between the Kenya Private Sector Alliance and MVO Nederland with the support of the Embassy of The Netherlands.