The government is launching a Sh2bn national census of Kenyan farmers,which will take one-and-a half-years and survey millions of smallholders, to assist in planning better government services and delivery for agribusinesses.
The survey will harmonize how government and donor funding reaches farmers in a drive to stimulate agribusiness and end policy disharmony and poor planning in the sector, said Agriculture Permanent Secretary
With the data collected from the census, the government will also develop software to identify the key problems affecting farmers. “We are sending staff to Rome next month for training to familiarise themselves with how to conduct the important exercise. It will help the Government to know how many farmers it will deal with,” said the permanent secretary.
Italy has been one of the countries that has successfully carried out a farmers census that identified huge gaps in agricultural sector funding with government spending going into the wrong interventions.
“For example, Italian government would spend millions of dollars in buying fertilizers but that would not translate into high yields, especially among small scale farmers. What the detailed census revealed, and which included not just how many farmers there are, but also where they are and what they plant, is that crop varieties and good farming practices were more important than fertilizers. We feel it's the same case here,” says Mitch Nyandemo an agricultural consultant
The Rome farmer census of 2008 revealed there were over 15 million farmers in Italy, the majority of who were being held back by poor soils. The huge fund allocation by the Italian government was on creating markets for the farmers. But markets were then undersupplied as poor yields meant farmers couldn't produce enough to sell.
The Census interventions saw government rededicate its efforts to soil fertility projects and pump more resources to research institutions to develop higher yielding varieties. Two years after the interventions,
national production jumped an impressive 60 per cent.
“The script reads almost the same here, the government has been getting it all wrong and although all farmers are into food production their needs are not uniform, so a comprehensive national survey would go along way in enlightening government on what needs to go where,”said Dr Dorothy Otindo an agricultural economist.
A case in point is the controversial fertilizer subsidy by the Kenyan government, the aim of which has been to assist farmers access fertilizer at cheaper rates than the market price. Yet the majority of farmers whose soils have become tired due to overcropping never get the fertilizer to replenish their land as the subsidy is first concentrated in areas known to be the food baskets of the country,like Central and Rift Provinces.
Farmers in the area who are not desperate for the fertilizer either end up repackaging it and selling it, and farmers in arid areas like Coastal Kenya and Eastern continue suffering poor soil fertility.
“The overall effect is that food production never increases significantly, and what happens if the two areas touted to be the food baskets fail? The nation starves,” said Dorothy. As a case in point,she cites the viral maize disease that has hit parts of Rift Valley and Central Kenya this year, which has affected over 4,000 hectares of land and threatened millions of Kenyans with starvation. “This, even as the government subsidy remains elusive to areas that would have been good production alternatives, like Eastern Kenya,” she said.
Likewise, there is no conclusive data on how many farmers exist in the country with various agricultural organisations putting the figures at between 5 and 10 million, 80 per cent of which are believed to be smallholders.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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