AGRA has always used strategic partnerships to support the creation of alignment between government priorities and private sector interests, for improving impact at smallholder farmer level and for mobilizing private sector investment to scale. 

In the first week of March 2023, AGRA team, alongside Natasha Santos, the Vice President at the Germany based Bayer Crop Science visited Makueni County to find out some of the priority areas for partnership with the main aim of supporting agriculture transformation particularly for smallholders.

“Today’s mission is to learn from the County government (of Makueni) about areas of opportunities, what areas of knowledge that can be drawn from the government that can be scaled out, areas that can be rife for partnerships, and areas of challenges that AGRA and Bayer can partner to bring more people on the table,” said John Macharia, AGRA’s Country Manager for Kenya.

“Am here to learn from the County Government of Makueni, then I recommend to the (Bayer) team about the areas where we can do more, and the areas we should prioritize,” said Santos.

To that effect, Joyce Mutua, Makueni County Executive Committee Member (CEC) in charge of Agriculture, Irrigation, Livestock, Fisheries & Cooperative Development pointed out some of the priority areas that the county government is already working on, and require partnerships.

“We are at the beginning of the five year cycle of the government, and every government comes in with a new policy direction,” said the CEC. “Focus of the current government is on transformation agenda, with priority on agriculture,” she said.

In Makueni, said Ms Mutua, the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP), which is a five year document, is all about agriculture transformation. 

To that end, Makueni County is looking at value chain development in areas not limited to poultry, rabbits, green grams, beans, pigeon peas, livestock, and fruits among others. 

“It is unfortunate that 57% of households in Makueni County are food insecure and yet more than 80% of the households are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods,” said Ms Mutua.

She noted that so far, there is a deliberate effort to produce food for commercialization. “The county is now looking at sufficient production of food so as to feed the world. This is because if we achieve primary target of feeding the world, then we will definitely afford to feed ourselves, and be 100% food secure,” she said.

So far, the county is already walking towards the (feed the world) direction by exporting mangoes, French beans, and pulses. The county government is also working towards exporting avocados. However, the CEC noted that those value chains being exported have not been well developed, and that is therefore one of the areas that need partnerships.

“Our strategy is that farmers will determine the value chains they want to follow. We encourage them to focus on at least only three value chains at a time and perfect them, and the government will help move those value chains to scale,” said Ms Mutua.

She pointed out that if it is poultry value chain for example, the farmer should target not less than 200 birds at any given time. If it is dairy farming, the farmer will need to have at least four animals, out of which at least two are lactating. If it is green grams, the farmer should target at least five acres under the crop. 

“If we get this correctly and aggregate the farmers, then we will have enough for commercialization,” said the CEC. “We are already clear on the strategy for mango value chain, and the strategy for exportation of pixie oranges is coming out very well,” she added.

The ban that had been imposed on the exportation of mangoes has since been lifted. The county had been banned from exporting the fruits because of some pests, and slightly above average chemical reside levels. The lifting came in after the government introduced the use of pheromone traps to achieve low pest zones in Kibwezi and Mbitini areas, where mangoes mature earlier than the interior zones. But the county is slowly expanding the acreage under the low pest zones.

Ms Mutua said that investing in integrated pest management to expand low pest zones is therefore another area that needs partnerships. 

So far, mangoes from low pest zones retail at up to Sh40 a piece in the export market, four times higher than what is found in the open market.

Makueni County has installed a plant that is producing puree, though in low volumes. However, this season, the county purchased one million kilograms of mangoes from local farmers. 

“We are doing the market study, and this is an area we are seeking for support. We are looking at how we engage with the private sector partnership in the mango value chain. This is because the government has its own limitations based on how it runs,” said the CEC noting that sometimes, money coming from the government arrive late, which is not good for such projects that involve perishables.

“We are also setting up a drying plant so that we can absorb as many mangoes as possible. There is a huge market for the dried mangoes, and we are exploring many more value addition techniques including the use of hot pepper on the dried mango crisps,” she told the AGRA and Bayer team, pointing out that one youth group is already exporting dried mangoes to South Africa and USA.

Dairy farming is another area that the county government is working on, though the facilities in place are not running at the moment. “We need support to boost fodder production. We also need involvement of the private sector to develop the required facilities, because we can still buy milk from elsewhere to be processed in our facilities,” said Ms Mutua.

Other areas of interest include scaling up of production and aggregation to bypass brokers who always take advantage to offer very poor prices. 

The county government is also planning to put up a testing facility because at the moment it is relying on the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and other facilities in Nairobi for testing, which takes a long turnaround time.

The county is in the process of putting up phase one of agriculture and food laboratory that will be able to test the soils, and the food laboratory that will support the angle of processing.

“We are also planning to put up an industrial park to be supported by aggregation centers. That is where we will do incubations like starter businesses, and host businesses that just need to run,” said Ms Mutua.

 “At the moment, we are not very industrialized as a county due to lack of infrastructure, such as electricity, water supply, sewage system among other amenities,” she noted.