Part VI: Benefits of Small Scale Farming in Kenya
Joseph Khisa prepares his family’s land for for planting in Chwele, Kenya. Notice the use of a string to make sure that the row is straight – this is a recommendation of the One Acre Fund. Also if you look carefully at the string you can see that there are small pieces of cloth that show where each seed should be planted. This insures that proper spacing is used in the planting so that seeds are not wasted or sowed too far apart.
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Kenyan small scale farmers can significantly improve their agricultural practices. When I was in Kenya in the 1960s shortly after independence, Kenyan farmers were enthusiastic in adopting new techniques – hybrid maize, grade cows, growing coffee, tea, and other cash crops, and so on. They were advised by well-trained agriculture and livestock government officers. It was an exciting time. Unfortunately much of this dissipated during the Moi years – farmer training centers were closed and the agricultural extensions officers were curtailed and abolished. “The declining effectiveness of the public extension service has been identified as one among the factors impeding agricultural growth in Kenya” (from the internet).
As a consequence of this decline as one of the objectives for many non-government organizations is to promote agricultural improvements. In this Report from Kenya I will cover one of these – the One Acre Fund. The reason I pick this program is that three of my five sisters-in-law are enthusiastic members of the One Acre Fund, a fourth was a participant until she got sick (but says she plans on rejoining), while the fifth sister-in-law was once a member and resigned because she didn’t like it.
In 2017 the One Acre Fund, which began in Kenya in 2006, served 238,000 farmers in Kenya. This is what its webpage explains (see https://oneacrefund.org/):
“We offer a complete bundle of services, using a market-based model that helps our organization remain financially sustainable and expand to reach more and more farmers every year.Here’s how our model works:
Asset-Based Loans. Farmers receive high-quality seeds and fertilizer on credit, and we offer a flexible repayment system that allows them to pay back their loans in any amount throughout the loan term.
Delivery. We deliver inputs to locations within walking distance of every farmer we serve.
Training. Farmers receive training throughout the season on modern agricultural techniques.
Market Facilitation. We offer crop storage solutions and teach farmers about market fluctuations, so that they can time crop sales to maximize profits.”
Since the One Acre Fund can purchase seeds and fertilizer in bulk from the suppliers, the problem of fake seeds and fertilizer is solved. Moreover, even if the farmer is short on cash for one reason or another, their loan fund means that the inputs are available at the appropriate time. One year due to a shortage of hybrid maize seeds we had great difficulty finding the variety we wanted to plant. Although they don’t mention this on the website, as soon as a new crop variety is available, the One Acre Fund is able to quickly introduce it to the farmers. They also take soil samples from farmers for testing in their lab in Kakamega and, if necessary, recommend that the farmers spread lime which is often deficient in the soil. The new plastic liner storage bags that don’t need insecticide that I mentioned in my last Report are also promoted by the One Acre Fund.
The One Acre Fund also promotes the planting of grevillea trees which have deep roots and do not dry out the soil as the too commonly planted eucalyptus trees do – their participants have planted 8 million of these trees in Kenya. We have about forty of these trees on the boundary of our plot. They also provide solar lights, vegetable seeds, cook stoves (I don’t know if it is the one we have which I described in my previous report), and sanitary napkins.
The One Acre Fund can also play an important role that is not mentioned. The agriculture research stations can develop an improved crop, but then they need to have the commercial seed companies propagate the seeds in substantial amounts. The seed companies are reluctant to do this unless they can be assured of a large market. The One Acre Fund can do this for them since, if they decide to promote a new variety, they will have a large enough need for substantial amounts, thus encouraging the seed companies to produce new varieties.
There is not one magic bullet that is going to solve the increase in production by small scale farmers. Rather there are going to be innumerable small steps, many which will be intertwined with other improvements. While the possibilities are many, the important aspect is that the small scale farmers are willing to adopt them. If they don’t adopt a particular option, they have a good reason which, if understood, should be accommodated.
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