Recognize and Empower African Smallholder Farmers to Solve Africa’s Perennial Food Insecurity

African Smallholder farmers are the backbone of Africa’s Agriculture and feed millions of mouths with the fruits of their labour. Producing over 80% of food for the population and contributing immensely to various governments’ economies, smallholder farmers need to be empowered with knowledge and information, so they can get on with the job of feeding Africa.

In Egypt, the theory that smallholders can be the solution to food insecurity has been turned into a reality. With adequate information about their soils, the seeds, the inputs, markets and finances, smallholder farmers in Egypt have registered various and numerous success.

Last week I met with farmers in Machakos County, Kenya.  Over the course of my trip, I witnessed repeatedly the difference knowledge and information can have on a farmers’ productivity. I met Vincent Nzive Kiio a 25 year old smallholder farmer who quit employment three years ago to farm his own land. A resident of Makaveti village in Kimutwa Location Machakos County, Mr. Kiio has only had one good harvest, which was in his first year. Last season he harvested just three bags of maize from his 10 hectare farm; half of what he harvested in 2012.

In the middle of the farm is Mr. Kiio’s house; a small hut made of mud with a grass thatched roof. The rest is shrubs and a few pigeon pea trees that stand looking at passers-by. Kiio’s farm portrays no hope for the young man’s efforts; despite him planting maize and applying fertilizer; the crops germinated only to wilt when rains failed. “Our problem here is water. The rains failed this season during planting and that’s why my maize is all dried,” says Kiio with tears rolling down his chin.

Just across the road from Kiio’s farm is Anthony Kieti’s farm; one that tells a completely different story. Retired from Kenyan Military, Mr. Kieti is full of smiles when we visit him at his farm. His three-hectare farm has maize that is in good health; already borne cobs only 45 days after planting, providing an early glimpse of a potential harvest.

Despite sharing same ecological system with Kiio, Mr. Kieti credits his success to improved seeds; the power of knowledge. He says that when he heard from Dryland Seed Company about their drought tolerant maize breed he was convinced to try it.  “When we were visited in our group, Mwania Farmer’s Group, by extension workers and agronomists from Dryland they told us that they have a maize variety that is drought tolerant and higher yielding,” says Kieti. Mr. Kieti says that he is very happy with the improved variety and says that despite the failed rains, he has something to count on when the harvesting season comes.

The two cases represent typical examples of lives of smallholder farmers throughout Kenya and Africa; who remain disconnected from knowledge and information about agriculture and hence face challenges they could have easily overcome. What needs to be done is ensure that smallholder farmers are empowered with knowledge and information in order to make sound business decisions.

The government of Kenya is already in a panic mode wondering what will happen when the grains in the reserves are over and are busy searching for lasting solutions.

However, this search for a solution to food security will definitely continue unless information flows from the various boardrooms, laboratories, and databases to the farmers who need this as an important ingredient to their trade. Smallholder farmers should be moved from subsistence farming to the market place if food security is to be achieved in Kenya.

As Kofi Annan once said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”, let us embrace our farmers and empower them to do what they do best and help solve food insecurity in Kenya and beyond.

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