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Farmers grapple with shaky markets

Emerging market trends push farmers to rethink farming options

By REITZ MUREITHI

The phrase “Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya,” has been used repeatedly to affirm its place in Kenya’s economy. However, recent developments like the infiltration of middle men into the sector, cartels and poor government policies have opened the farmers to frustration. 

Farmers suffer from convoluted supply chain

In Nakuru County, brokers have continuously taken advantage of potato farmers pushing them to planting peas and French beans in a move to steer away from the loss making business. The County is ranked as the second county after Nyandarua in the production of potatoes countrywide. Carrot famers have also faced a similar turmoil with most of them resulting to exporting the crop to Uganda.

Apart from brokers, farmers are now forced to grapple with cheap imports that flood the Kenyan market at their expense. Last year, fish farmers were up in arms over fish imports from China that competed unfairly with the Kenyan grown fish. For instance, Kenyan-grown Tilapia fetches KSh.200 to KSh.1000 depending on the size, whereas, Chinese fish retailed at almost half that price. Although the Government banned the import of these fish into the Kenyan market, poultry keepers have now found themselves on that same path. Towards the end of last year, an influx of cheap eggs made an entry into the Kenyan market. While farmers sell their eggs at a retail price of KSh.300- KSh.330 per tray the imported egg cost KSh.180. The deafening outcry from these farmers seems to have been ignored as nothing has been done to salvage the situation. 

In the previous Devolution Conference held in Kirinyaga County, President Uhuru Kenyatta touched on the thorny issue, urging counties to find ways of competing with the cheap eggs. President Kenyatta narrated how different counties including Makueni and Kirinyaga had come up with agricultural projects that were profitable to farmers despite the imports making their way into the Country. 

Farmers must be market savvy

He further asked the individuals to benchmark with such counties that had cracked the code on competing with the emerging market trends. According to the East Africa Common market protocol, the East Africa partner states have the right to the free movement of goods, labor, workers, services and capital.  The partner states also reserve the right of establishment and residence between them. In this regard, the imports into Kenya are justified. However, Nakuru County’s Agriculture Executive Dr Immaculate Maina notes that there are ways of dealing with this situation.

“We can never match the price offered by Uganda because the tax levied on farm inputs in Kenya is higher than what Ugandans have to pay. Farmers should therefore consider business diversification,” she said. While giving an example of poultry keepers, Dr Maina advised the farmers to go into the selling of meat as well as selling the eggs. This way, if one product fails, the farmer can always ride on the other.

“The Government should also help in establishing the cottage industries. This way, farmers have more options on where to take their products.” At the same time, Dr Maina added that the trade between counties was not yet explored fully. “Even as a famer in Nakuru complains that there is no market for their produce, you may find a stranded buyer in Turkana for instance lamenting over the scarcity of this same product,” she noted.

With a bit of legislation and formulation of policies, Dr Maina believes that this could be a solution that could cut across all agricultural products. Another solution according to her is the reduction of the cost of production. This would translate to a reduction of the tax levied on feeds and other farm inputs widely used by the famers.

Establishing markets through online platforms   

Lastly, Dr Maina suggested the establishment of online platforms where famers can link with potential buyers across the country. So far, a similar product dubbed viazi soko has been launched by the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK). On this web-based SMS platform, the farmer can be able to access quality certified seeds from various decentralised points highlighted on the platform. The farmers are also continuously informed on the recent potato trends, potato care and disease control. Most importantly, the platform links potato farmers with processers therefore creating a virtual market. By sending a short message to 22384 indicating the potato variety, price per kilogram, the kilograms available and the date, the farmer easily gets access to a potential buyer.

Locally available solutions

In Kenya, various agricultural institutions like the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) have resulted to technology in a bid to help farmers in the production stage of various farm produce. KALRO has launched mobile application like Elimsis, Range Pasture seed production and indigenous KALRO chicken applications. Nakuru County also has the Nakuru Agri Call Center where farmers can send SMS and WhatsApp texts on diseases and seed certification. The questions are answered by experts dedicated to the platform.

Although these applications share information on production, they have little to no information on the market. Perhaps it is time for such applications to incorporate market linkages as well. 

Reitz Mureithi is the Communications Officer, Nakuru County Government. Email: ngonyomureithi@gmail.com