WFP chases more than 20,000 new smallholder suppliers

By Bob Koigi

A five-year initiative by the World Food Programme to stimulate Kenyan production of key food crops by purchasing for the WFP’s emergency food relief programmes directly from Kenyan smallholders has delivered contracts to now more than 700 farmers, as it chases an initial target of 27,000 Kenyan suppliers by 2013.

The pilot project, made possible by contributions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, Howard Buffet Foundation and donor governments, began in 2009 with a contract to buy 45 tonnes of rice

from farmers in Ahero, a town in Western Kenya.

It has since bought 2,830.85 tonnes of maize, sorghum, beans, green grams, cowpeas and pigeon peas from 770 smallholders through 15 farmer organisations and 7 agrodealers and small traders. Another 22 farmers’ organisations and agro dealers have been contracted to deliver a further 6,274.68 tonnes.

The P4P project works with District Agricultural Officers (DAOs) and NGOs with a field presence who assist the WFP in identifying potential small scale suppliers. In some cases, small-scale suppliers contact
the P4P unit directly. The WFP then explains the steps involved in filling the registration form and helps potential suppliers complete their applications.

Upon registering, a farmer or farmers’ group waits to be shortlisted as a vendor, and if successful is allocated a vendor number used during the supply process. For a farmer’s group to qualify, it has to
show that it can supply at least 56 metric tones, which is equal to 623 bags of 90 Kgs of any WFP commodity, at a central collection point identified by the agency.

The WFP then assesses the capacity of farmers to meet the WFP’s requirements for quality and quantity. These include purity standards for grains and pulses and cover handling and storage procedures. The food agency then moves to contracts based on tendering, forward contracting or direct purchase at market prices that take into account farmers’ costs of production. The WFP also advises farmers on business and farm management so that they can produce more at less cost, and
with guaranteed sales at the end of each harvest.

The main challenges for the P4P initiative is the scarcity of cleaning and drying equipment and modern storage facilities among farmers. Farmers are often forced to dry their maize on the ground at the mercy of unreliable weather, which compromises quality. And then, they are forced to rely on stores that can only take about five tonnes.

Some farmers that have also signed contracts to supply food to WFP are sometimes forced to sell their food, since they are unable to meet the quality and quantity specifications required by WFP. “We are working hard to train them on these qualities because their input matters,” says Rose Ogola, Public Information Officer at WFP Kenya.

Other NGOs are also helping support the initiative. Koptegei Widows Group, a group of 24 women mainly casual labourers widowed by post election violence was assisted by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, an international organization that works to assist small scale farmers market their produce, which partnered with the Cereal Growers Association (CGA), while the WFP staff trained the women’s group in quality control, food storage and handling, and basic warehouse management.

The women also borrowed equipment like temporary warehouses (wiikhalls), tarpaulins, weigh scales, stitching machines, and a generator. With the training and financial backing, the group participated in a competitive WFP P4P tender and won a tender to
deliver 250 tonnes worth Sh6m.

“This is the best thing to have ever happened to me. Before we could get assisted by the WFP, middlemen would buy our maize at a pathetically low price, but we had no choice. Now look at me. My two sons are now in their final years pursuing good degrees,” says Miriam Chemboi, a beneficiary of the program. Her sons are studying aeronautical engineering and computer science at the University of

The women have now bought more land to increase their supply to WFP. The commodities delivered to WFP are used for relief in drought-stricken areas. The 2009 drought that became a national disaster in Kenya left 10 million Kenya in urgent need of relief aid. The World Food Programme distributed 420,000 metric tonnes of food to more than 3.5 million, or nearly 10 per cent of Kenyans. WFP also
donates food in the Kenya government’s school feeding programme, which targets school children in drought stricken areas.

The maize situation in Kenya has long been a thorn in the flesh. The 5-year annual average production for maize is 2,375,000 tonnes according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture but the annual average consumption is 2,875,000 tonnes leaving a shortfall of some 500,000 tonnes. The same is true for beans, wheat and rice, with consumption higher than production.

WFP hopes that by 2013, at least half a million smallholder farmers, mostly women, will have increased and improved their agricultural production and earnings under the P4P program, which will drive Kenya
towards food self sufficiency while achieving a fundamental millennium development goal of halving the proportion of hungry people in the world by 2015.

“Meeting the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the most urgent one – to reduce the proportion of hungry people in the world by half by 2015 – requires not just shared vision and commitment but shared action on the ground,” said Josette Sheeran the Executive Director of global World Food Programme during a recently concluded forum on the Millenium Promise in New York.