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Kenyan smallholder farmers unbowed to COVID-19

The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to wreak havoc all over the world forcing governments to impose restrictions and quarantine to contain the spread to "flatten the curve". And these measures have consequently crippled economies and supply chains worldwide. Producers are now vulnerable to economic shocks, volatile commodity prices and high labour costs that threaten to destroy their livelihood.

In Kenya, smallholder farmers are facing difficulties in obtaining inputs like seeds, fertilizers and farm chemicals. Transportation of fresh produce has become very expensive making it difficult for farmers to bring their produce to the markets- some of which are closed.

Triple Threat

Smallholder farmers are already vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns, volatile prices and health-related disruptions to their activities are a major concern. This implies a rise in health care expenditure to prevent farmworkers from contracting the virus. It also includes the purchase of PPEs to safeguard them.

Coping Strategies

To mitigate the effects of the pandemic and adapt to the looming future challenges, Kenyan farmers have resorted to diversifying their crop production, finding new markets, investing in value addition and forging alliances that would reduce the cost of production and ensure that they realize a modest profit.

A good working relationship between the farmers and agronomic services company- Syngenta birthed the establishment of "farmers hubs" in Nakuru and Nyandarua Counties. This is an out of the box solution that is proving to be beneficial to smallholder farming communities around this agriculturally rich region of Kenya. Courtesy of Syngenta Foundation, the farmers' hub concept entails offering normal agronomic services like advisories, market information and extension services in addition to the COVID-19 Sensitization Program for farmers and giving tips on how to stay safe.

The hubs also introduced a system of aggregation of farm input orders whereby they take input requests from farmers then place bulk orders to suppliers on their behalf thus attracting discount saving farmers from extra expenses for covering transportation to various agro vet outlets scattered around the region. The initiative has been possible through collaboration with Agrico EA, Yara (Fertilizers) Hangzhou, Murphy and Agro-Care.

Digitalization

With plunging sales and shops that sell groceries remaining open, consumers having limited access to shops because of quarantine restrictions, a little innovation and entrepreneurship can go a long way in building resilience. And that is where digitalization comes in.

Smallholder farmers in Kenya have explored new markets and embraced the use of digital platforms hence bridging the gap between producers and buyers. Shift to digital tools and platforms and access to new online delivery channels has enabled producers to sell their fresh produce directly to consumers. Mr Chrisphine Kwama a poultry keeper in Western Kenya boasts of not feeling the heat of the moment and continues to sell his birds to consumers through the social media platform. He explained, "It eases my work as I can receive orderers through my inbox and deliver using a courier service."

Photo credit: Joni Ocampo