Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Is it gloom or hope for Cane farmers in Kenya?

Today, the sugar industry in Kenya faces a serious challenge with local sugar growers worrying about their futures.

The Common Market for East and Central Africa (COMESA) safe guard measures protecting the industry from competition comes to an end on 28 February this year coupled with  potentially serious consequences, including the possibility of the entire sector going in to receivership and out of business.

The commencement of Agriculture Sector Reforms is another worry for the farmers when the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) Act2013 and Kenya agricultural research and livestock Act 2013 that were  gazetted in 2013 repealing 131 Acts of Parliament that govern the sector.

The AFFA Act seeks to scrap the Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) which has been a key stakeholder in the industry as a regulatory body charged with promoting the efficiency and development of the sugar industry, developing, promoting, coordinating the activities of individuals and organizations in the sugar industry and facilitating the equitable access to the benefits and resources of the industry by all interested parties.

“According to the AFFA Act the Kenya Sugar Board will be repealed on 24th January,” noted Simon Wesechere, the Sugarcane Farmers Union Secretary General.

Other parastatals to be faced out include Sisal Board of Kenya, Cotton Development Authority, National Cereals and Produce Board, Coffee Board of Kenya, Tea Board of Kenya, Kenya Sugar Board, Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, and Coconut Development Authority, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, and Horticultural Crops Development Authority.

The Kenana Engineering & Technical Services Baseline Study for Sugar Agribusiness in Kenya 2013 Draft Report  says that, the sugar industry faces a number of challenges including, among others, capacity underutilization, poor transport infrastructure, and weak corporate governance. Additionally, the cost of sugar production in Kenya is more than double the cost in neighboring sugar producers.

The Farmer’s union boss raises concern that they are worried with the current trend within the Sugar Industry, “Nothing has been streamlined. They wrote and forgot. The government can be sued.”

In an interview with Mr Wesechere, he says cane farming is costly and there is need for subsidies for the farmers when it comes to inputs giving reference to cane farmers in other countries like Brazil, Malaysia and South Africa where subsidies for cane farmers is a ‘guarantee and not a question’.

The union says the government and the county Government needs to appreciate cane farmers for the role they play in saving of the foreign exchange both direct and indirect.

However, he does not have kind words for the devolved governments whom he accuses for double standards.

“The Governors, Senators, County Representatives and the Members of the National Assembly within Western Province and Nyanza Province are all leaders from the local community; whatever they say and do defeats all reasons and purpose of economically empowering the farmer. Why propose tax measures that harm than solve?

He says, with the proposed tax measures for instance ferrying cane within Kakamega County a load of over eight tonnes will attract a charge of Sh1, 500 while heavy sugarcane trucks passing through will be required to pay Sh1, 000.

“It is the farmer being taxed, it is the farmer who is receiving low pay and at the end a negative pay. The farmer is being frustrated. They are adding more problems instead of solving them. They are thirsty of accumulating money. They are directionless. It is very sad,” he says.

The union blames the KSB for not implementing the Amended Sugar Act where the locals have a 51 per cent ownership and the investor a 41 per cent.

All is not lost, sugar cane is our lifestyle and a quarter of the country’s population should not be taken for granted he notes.

He says a time has come where we all need to seat together and discuss the future of the industry. Leaders need to come up with a memorandum for receiving new suggestions on the new reforms being spearheaded and the coming in of a liberalized market.

The Secretary General proposes the following measures:

First, the sugar industry needs to focus on rehabilitating its existing facilities, enhancing production, and reducing the production costs, as a way of closing the gap in its local sugar production as the COMESA and EAC countries produce sugar at much more competitive prices than Kenya.

“The government had exhausted all its options when they sought for COMESA extensions to protect her struggling sugar sector. The extensions have served as a grace period for the government, millers and other stakeholders to come up with realistic plans for improving sugar production efficiency so as to be able to compete in the COMESA market and beyond without being accorded special favors. The government now needs to move with speed and haste before it lapses.”

This is in relation to the Trade Remedy Regulations.

Secondly, there needs to be an immediate structure to take over the KSB so that there is no vacuum as it has been playing a critical role of accounting the 7 per cent sugar development levy of the market price charged by the Kenyan Government to cover for Cane Development Infrastructure, Factory rehabilitation, Grants to Research and KSB Administration.

He notes cane farmers to benefit from the money they remit, they need to have their own Sugar Cane Farmers Bank and not the Agriculture Finance Cooperation (AFC) which is a conglomeration of everything.

Thirdly, the 2010-2014 Kenya Sugar Industry Strategic Plan needs to be reviewed to see what has been achieved and not in revamping and resuscitating the sugar industry.

Wesechere says, if the country values the potential of the industry, then research and development will continue to be a necessary accompaniment in reforming the Industry to enable it to be competitive and sustainable and to retain its important role in the national economy. 

He says, cane farming is a cornerstone of the many livelihoods of the western people and it is expensive to bring a new enterprise to them like dairy and poultry farming to them, “It takes time.”

He advocates for a strengthened Extension Services Unit (ESU) to represents the important link between the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation, Cane Growers and the Manufacturing Sector of the Sugar Industry for technology to reach the farmers in new cane varieties, soil analyses for fertilizer recommendations, testing of agricultural chemicals and a host of other services available to both estates and farmers.

Finally, as cane millers continue to diversify in to other co-products such as power co-generation, ethanol production, among other initiatives, farmers need to have an equal share of the produce from them as an additional income from the raw materials they use.

But still, Wesechere says, the farmers have to grow sugar if sugar mills are going to turn a profit. “We need millers and they need farmers.” 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Lack of start-up capital derailing food production in Western and North Rift Kenya

A model small holder farm on display at a Kakamega Agricultural Exhibition 

Agricultural production in the Western and North Rift areas of Kenya is at a crossroads. Persistent food shortages are now being amplified by climate change rapid population growth, scarcity of arable land, and rising food prices.

Most parts of the region are headed for a devastating economic meltdown. Associated with this meltdown are looming food crisis, hunger and malnutrition. These are largely rural based economies that rely on commercial maize farming, small holder subsistence mixed farming, small scale intensive horticulture and inter-community trade.

Food production has failed to keep pace with human population growth. Nearly 6 million Kenyans are chronically hungry.

The agriculture sector is characterized by the dominance of small scale farming with 3.5 million small scale farmers with land size averaging 2.5 acres. Small scale farmers account for over 75 per cent of the total agricultural production and over 50 per cent of market output.

Yet, Kenya remains a low income food deficit country with an overall national prevalence of poverty at 56 per cent in rural areas and 49 per cent for urban populations. Poverty has risen from 3.2 million in 1972/73 to 11.5 million in 1994, 12.5 million in 1997 and an estimated 15 million today, according to the Innovative Financial Instruments for Agriculture Strategy and Plan 2008-2010.

There are good reasons to expect agricultural growth to reduce poverty. Agricultural development raises returns to land, the only real asset the any rural poor in Africa own.

“The importance of agriculture and other natural resource-based livelihoods for poverty reduction goes far beyond its direct impact on poor people’s incomes. Evidence shows that increasing agricultural productivity benefits millions across the world, through higher incomes and cheaper food,” according to Gareth Thomas MP, UK Minister for International Development in his Innovation, agricultural growth and poverty reduction essay published by  The Smith Institute (Going for Growth science, technology and innovation in Africa).
Moreover, growth of food output should push down the price of staple foods, to the immense benefit of the poor who even in rural areas are overwhelmingly net buyers of food.
Western and North Rift are expected to be the bread basket of the country; however, this is not the case. They still rely heavily on the government to feed it.

The main reason is that, the most productive arable lands have been converted in to sugar cane and maize zones with no proper policies to factor in the aspect of food crops.
A sugar cane plantation in Busia County of Western Kenya.

In the last four decades, more than half of the land in Western Kenya has been abandoned as a result of soil degradation. Millions of tones of fertile soil are lost by soil erosion at a fast rate.

Over twenty years, land degradation can mean the difference between productive land and land that becomes stone.”

If vegetation is removed, the process speeds up, and the physical structure of the soil starts to degrade and collapse, depleting vital nutrients. Reversing the process of desertification is difficult and expensive. The key, says Shepherd, 
“Is to identify the problem early enough to prevent switches that occur from a very healthy ecosystem to a degraded state.”
The challenge, therefore, is how to increase productivity among subsistence smallholder farmers. The opportunity and innovation lies in the role of policy, technology, research support and institutional arrangements that can aggregate production on small farms rather than aggregating the land resource base.

My sense is that the traditional focus on large holdings as a pre-requisite for modernization and profitability of African agriculture is misplaced.

Improving agricultural productivity is the key for reducing poverty in the country. A global consensus has emerged that agriculture must move up on the global development agenda and that investment in agriculture especially small holder agriculture must be increased if the twin goals of poverty reduction and food security are to be achieved according to the Draft Report of the Consultation on the Eighth Replenishment of IFAD’s Resources.

In fact, if Kenya is to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, the agriculture sector needs to grow much faster and maintain an annual growth rate of 6.2 per cent.

The Degraded land within Mt Elgon region of Western Kenya. - Phanice Chepkemboi

This requires that we work on every single aspect of the agriculture production chain from regenerating depleted  soil, using better seeds and ore fertilizers (whether organic or industrial) to drastically  improve the quality of so called extension services that support agriculture. It implies working on marketing and storage issues, road infrastructure and financial services. 

A tractor pulling one of the seed transporting lorry - Suam-Endebes road.
Only by tackling all those aspects at once, involving both the public and private sectors, will we manage to improve agriculture productivity in a sustainable way.

Weaning smallholder farmers from subsistence maize production to high value export crops is something that must be done to extend the benefits of a globalized economy to the majority of Western and North Rift rural population.

Local product markets remain weak, uncertain, and inaccessible with high transaction costs arising from poor market information and poor infrastructure.

Furthermore, owing to high transportation costs, lack of credit, storage facilities and risks in supplying small scale farmers agriculture inputs and financial services is low amongst smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Small scale farmers in rural areas of Western and North Rift have not been able to access financial services for acquiring far inputs among other needs to improve farm productivity. This is partly due to low density of financial institutions in rural areas, inappropriate financial products, along with the high cost and high risks of lending.

Small holder farmers adjust by resorting to informal credit, reduction of farm inputs, sub-optimal production techniques and borrowing from family and friends. This limits the investment in far equipment and capital as well as other agricultural assets and inputs.

In addition, small scale farmers concentrate on low risk, low return activities because they cannot access start-up capital and cannot transfer risks. As a result, there is low productivity among smallholder farmers. Low productivity attributed to inadequate use of production enhancing technologies and inputs such as fertilizers has led to food insecurity amongst the small holder households and worsens unemployment and poverty.
Small Holder farmer selling her produce in Bungoma Town

Credit is an important input in the production system and it contributes to increased food productivity. Access to credit increases the farmer’s working capital enabling the farmers to buy productivity enhancing inputs such as good quality seeds, fertilizers and chemicals.
The challenge for agricultural financial institutions is to develop low cost ways of reaching farmers, especially smallholders.

Consequently, farmers especially smallholder farmers have trouble accessing credit, obtaining information on market opportunities or new technologies, purchasing certain inputs and accessing product markets.

There is need for farmers’ education to sensitize them on existing and new technologies they can use to improve production. This is especially among the rural farmers. Eventually, this would help in strengthening and establishing producers and trade unions: providing farmers with professional advice, current market information and input results in an organized way; controlling market prizing and products, providing farmers with loans at lower interest rates while improving transportation, storage and processing standards.

More food must be produced to contain the impact of soaring prices on poor consumers and simultaneously boost productivity and expand production to create more income and employment opportunities for the rural poor. 

Smallholder farmers must have proper access to land and water resources and essential inputs such as seeds and fertilizers. 

To ensure that small farmers and rural households benefit from higher food prices, a policy environment that relaxes the constraints facing the private sector, farmers and traders must be created. That would mean reversing the decline in the level of public resources spent on agriculture and rural development and investing more in agriculture.

If agriculture is to be the engine for rural development and prosperity for the millions currently ensnared in the poverty trap, we must build new institutions that reach the invisible, under served smallholder farmers.

Article also appeared here

Monday, 3 February 2014

Josephine Ekiru : A true woman leader and heroine for the wildlife

Josephine Ekiru PHOTO National Geographic

Josephine Ekiru, 28, has startled many Kenyans with her mission to preach peace and environmental conservation.

This was realized through Nation Television feature by Rose Wangui and Cameraman Boniface Mwangi  #PoachersDiary.

Josephine has a dream of ensuring that communities live together in peace and harmony and wildlife protected at the same time.

She uses the power of dialogue to ensure those who were Elephant poachers are abandon the illegal trade and be ambassadors who protect the elephants.

“Fighting with the youth is not a solution in conserving our wildlife. The most important is to sensitize them that the animals are theirs and not the government.
Everything is all about passion, I love peace and animals. I would not be happy if a youth is killed or even an animal."

Other works from Rose Wangui: