Market-focused agriculture hurts food security

Agribusiness is a vehicle to drive increased agricultural production. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Agribusiness is a vehicle to drive increased agricultural production. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A new scenario is emerging in the rural areas. Farmers are crowding the markets to get their daily food supplies while they should produce enough to consume in their homes.

It is estimated that small-scale farmers contribute about 70 per cent to the national food basket, yet the average maize farmer in Kenya is a net buyer – able to grow enough to supply themselves for seven to nine months in a year, and the rest of the time they must buy from the market.

This developing trend of farmers buying food from the same market they sell in, begs the question: what happened to growing for subsistence before selling?

It makes financial sense when farmers sell their produce for money to meet other expenses like health and education but not so that they can buy food again.

This clearly suggests that our farmers are implementing the “farming as a business” clarion call.


In their quest for better incomes and living conditions promised by the promoters of the “agribusiness model”, smallholder farmers are giving up their food sovereignty, which was uniquely flavoured by a wide range of food crops on small pieces of land.

This approach has been referred to by agribusiness protagonists and “value-chain experts” as unprofitable. What makes better sense for farmers?

Is it getting profits or being able to feed themselves first? Why should they only produce one crop on their farms, sell because there is good market for it and then line up to buy all the other produce they could have grown?

All this is happening at a time the food markets in Kenya are not well structured.

Rural food markets are in many cases treated to the rejects from the city and nearby towns. You rarely see fresh spinach you see in the supermarkets. Poor infrastructure and market systems only make rural food markets more inefficient and unreliable.

The local food traders who dominate the food business in rural areas often have inadequate market information and planning skills with no ability or interest to expand to meet the growing demand for food fuelled by overdependence of rural households on informal food markets.

Agribusiness is a vehicle to drive increased agricultural production and involvement of more people in food production handling and trade activities but there is a need to maintain if not advance, the ability of farming households to produce their own food.

Farmers feeding themselves by producing healthy food and selling the surplus should not be corrupted for whatever reason.

Let families make use of small kitchen gardens behind their houses to grow vegetables and spices to accompany their meals.

The message we should be relaying to farmers is that food security starts at the household level and promoting family farming is one way of achieving this.

It’s important to ensure that the food sovereignty of smallholder farmers is not affected by our focus and drive towards commercial agriculture.

We should not conflate the issue of food insecurity with an increasingly upscaled, commercialised and privatised model for agriculture.

Emmanuel Atamba, Route to Food Youth Ambassador, Founde, Vijana Shambani Initiative.