- Kamis has organised farmers into groups for purposes of training and well as equipping.
- Ms Meroi, a member of Naisurwa Self-Help Group says that the lack of knowledge of market prices has been their main undoing.
- Her group is involved in tomato farming and has been getting training on climate smart agricultural practices.
For the longest time, Elizabeth Meroi, a farmer in Kajiado, has been at the mercy of middlemen.
Year in, year out, she put in resources to produce crops and rear livestock, hoping for a good return only for the traders to offer prices that could hardly cover the cost of production.
She has been captive in an exploitative system that has over the years seen farmers’ welfare deteriorate while that of middlemen improves.
It has largely been enabled by the challenges that farmers face such as drought and lack of access to accurate and real-time market information on where to sell their farm produce. Middlemen have been making a killing by preying on their desperation.
But this looks set to change with the introduction of Kenya Agricultural Markets Information Systems (Kamis), a project being rolled by Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP).
It seeks to increase agricultural productivity and build resilience to climate change risks in among smallholder farming and pastoral communities in Kenya to increase their yields and incomes.
Kamis has organised farmers into groups for purposes of training and well as equipping. Ms Meroi, a member of Naisurwa Self-Help Group says that the lack of knowledge of market prices has been their main undoing.
Her group is involved in tomato farming and has been getting training on climate smart agricultural practices; agricultural research and seed systems; supporting agro-weather, market, climate, and advisory services, project coordination and management, among others.
“Apart from water for irrigation where we depend on a single borehole, getting a ready market is also a problem. We are left at the mercies of brokers to whom we are forced to sell to,” says Ms Meroi.
She shares that before joining the project, they would sell a crate of tomatoes at between Sh1,500 and Sh2,500 instead of market prices of between Sh5,000 and Sh8,000.
However, Kamis promises an end to such exploitation by cutting middlemen from the value chain.
The mobile-based marketing information system integrates contract farming as a means of mitigating the risk of price fluctuations in agricultural markets.
The platform, according to KCSAP Kajiado County Project Coordinator Daniel Nyagaka, Kamis provides farmers with access to accurate and real time information in terms of markets where they can sell their produce bridging the information gap.
He explains that not only is the marketing information system designed to help farmers identify marketing opportunities, but also negotiate for better prices. In trurn, this is hoped will rein in middlemen.
Mr Nyagaka points out that the system offers farmers convenience, noting that will be able, at the comfort of their homes or wherever they are, access information and know the prices within the county or the major markets as well as organise themselves in terms of where to sell.
The information will be accessed by a number of actors in the value chain – from farmers to processors, consumers to pastoralists and agro-pastoralists – to enhance their capacity to plan with farmers.
“This is a big step in terms of the farmers accessing technology. When you know the fluctuation in prices, you know the best season to produce, when the market is able to absorb what you are producing, when the price is good you can get good returns,” explains Mr Nyagaka.
Eight markets in the county including Loitoktok, Kimana, Namanga, Bisil, Kajiado, Kitengela, Kiserian and Ngong have been prioritised for roll-out of the platform.
In each, several enumerators have been properly trained and equipped with electronic gadgets, specifically computer tablets that have programmes that are able to relay information to the Kamis database on a real time basis every market day.
As an add-on, the platform will also provide access to agriculture-related information such as weather forecast, prices of inputs such as seed and fertilisers, transport facilities, information on storage facilities and quantities and volumes traded at selected markets in the county, and across borders.
Kajiado County Agriculture and Livestock CEC Jackline Koin says the platform will enable farmers make informed decisions on the time to produce different crops and in what quantities to maximise returns.
“The information system is real- time. This means that a farmer in Rombo can tell the food prices of, for example tomatoes in Ngong, Magadi or Namanga,” says Ms Koin.
The CEC states that the will relay information real time meaning that market information collected is received by the farmers in real time.
This, will then enable farmers to sell from a point of information helping them in the process to bargain and come together in cooperatives and transport their tomatoes to destinations where they will get better prices.
Where better prices are not available within the county, Ms Koin says that the county government will collaborate with other counties to find better markets.
“This is what adds up to create a food secure county,” she adds.
Further, Ms Koin points out the system will also guide the devolved unit in making legislations, regulations and policies with regard to agricultural and marketing activities.
“Policy makers both at the county and at the national government will benefit from the system through an increased awareness of market realities bringing about a fairer and more efficient allocation of resources,” she argues.
KCSAP is a government project supported by the World Bank with the objective to increase agricultural productivity and enhance resilience to climate change effects.
It has footprints in 24 counties including Kajiado, Nyeri, Kakamega, Isiolo, Busia, Bomet, Taita Taveta, Garissa, Lamu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Tana River, Tharaka Nithi, Laikipia, Nyandarua, Machakos, Kericho, Baringo, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Kisumu, and Siaya.
For the counties, the project targets three priority value chains of dairy and red meat from cattle, sheep and goat; and also tomatoes.
To support small holder farmers, the project has provided the farmers with seedlings, different farm machines such as improved manual hay bailers, forage choppers, motorised back pack weeders and brush cutters, to enable them embrace modern farming practices.
“We have been able to support 138 groups with farmer grants worth Sh95 million in two phases. The farmer groups are also supported by extension staff in terms of improving their productivity and changing their production systems,” says Mr Nyagaka.
He adds that service providers, extension staff and elite farmers have been trained on the relevant technologies, innovations and management practices and are scaling down those technologies to the farmers.
For the extension staff to reach the farmers, who are in vast wards, they have been provided with four motorcycles for use in ward extension services.
“This will assist ward extension officers to be able to reach the farmers groups and the farmers in their farms.”
Ms Koin says since its inception in 2017, the project has made major in-roads in teaching farmers on livestock and crop farming.
She points out that the project has been rolled out among self-help groups in six wards in Kajiado East, West and Central with the selection process based on strict parameters including poverty levels in the wards, vulnerability to climate risks, absence of similar initiatives to avoid duplication, presence of priority value chains, geographical proximity to wards and presence of ward level technical officers.
The farmers’ self-help groups have also received training in modern farming techniques and business skills including proposal writing and marketing.
Further, the Agriculture CEC adds that the county government has come up with Kajiado County Crop Agriculture Bill to help in solving problems facing farmers in the county.
The bill, she says, is before Kajiado County Assembly and has gone through first reading but it is yet to undergo public participation and second reading.
“We have had issues with weight and measures in regards to tomato packaging. This is a situation we have struggled with quite a bit but according to the bill, there will now be specific measures for crates as it describes what a small crate is and what a large one is,” explains the Agriculture CEC.
“We are waiting for the passage of the bill in anticipation because this is what will solve this problem for our farmers,” she adds.
Ms Koin further adds that the Governor Joseph ole Lenku-led administration is putting up two tomato processing plants in Namilok and Rombo.
The one in Namilok is county-funded, and they have received expression of interest from several investors who are ready to run the particular plant and the county government is in the process of identifying one investor from the interested ones.
The one in Rombo, on the other hand, is being constructed by Ewaso Nyiro Development Authority.
“Once all this is done, we know we will have a lasting solution to the woes of the farmers,” she says.