Kenya has no official survey data referring to the number of farmers and their characteristics such as land size, crop grown, gender, age etc. However, numbers have been thrown around for decades suggesting that 80% of farmers cultivate less than 5 Ha of land, among which 90% cultivate less than 2 Ha. There is no data to support these claims but experience from the ground compels me to concur than to differ with these estimations.
Whoever says small scale farming also says poor farmers organization and absence of inter-farmer interactions. Lack of networking among smallholder farmers has been the biggest impediment to agricultural development in Kenya. Why? Because agriculture is a business of (large) scale. Being a smallholder farmer naturally denies one the privilege of scale which implies that deliberate efforts must be activated to achieve economies of scale. For instance, a farmer who cultivates 200 Ha of land enjoys economies of scales and his battles are different from those of a smallholder farmer.
For Kenya’s smallholder farmers to achieve scale, they can adopt a farmers’ networking strategy referred to as aggregation. Aggregation is a process of providing order and interactions between smallholder farmers with a goal of introducing them into formal supply chains. In Kenya, the term aggregation is not new especially among development partners. In this article, I will tell you what aggregation is and what it is not.
Most development partners describe aggregation as “coming together” of farmers in order to achieve a common good. Unfortunately, in Kenya, farmers and stakeholders are unable to distinguish aggregation from other forms of farmers associations that have been considered similar in terms of how they run their activities. Reducing aggregation into simple get together of farmers takes Kenya back into the vicious cycle of cooperatives and associations.
How does aggregation of small scale farmers work?
On the same note, there are cases of “successful” aggregation where farmers have had enough access to inputs and market especially the sector of fresh produce for export like French beans. The only challenge with these success stories or ‘outgrowing schemes’ is that farmers are still exploited and have no bargaining power towards setting the price for their produce.
Unlike out-grower schemes, Aggregation is a business oriented multi stakeholder approach necessarily comprised of:
- A group of farmers
- A super-farmer a.k.a aggregator
- Future contract or a regulator
Aggregation allow farmers to access the market under pre-negotiated terms while the aggregators is guaranteed of buying a certain volume of produce from farmers in a future date.
The super-farmer is a well connected farming expert who manages and supervises a group of small holder farmers in a given area.
An effective aggregation structure should provide access to market for small-scale farmers and/or access to financing and quality inputs. From this perspective, any group of farmers practicing aggregation should not face any challenge when marketing their produce or commodities, which is unfortunately not the case in Kenya today.
In brief, it is expected that for aggregation to take effect, aggregators who are in charge of bringing farmers together - must possess the requisite financial capacity, market networks, and product knowledge; while the aggregates ie the farmers, must have the technical capacity to produce the specified quantity and quality of produce.
From my experience in Morocco, a country that has adopted aggregation successfully, more emphasis is put on drawing structures and implementation procedures of aggregation model. Aggregation model should operate under standardized procedures with an organ within the ministry of agriculture to regulate the future contracts between the aggregators and the farmers.
Simple regrouping of small-scale farmers is not enough and does not automatically qualify to be aggregation. Aggregation does not focus on the number of individuals or farmers who have been brought together but should rather focuses on the amount and quality of resources pooled together (knowledge, finances, produce, land, inputs).
For instance, before an individual creates an association for the purpose of pooling farmers, they are vetted by the government or delegated authority to ensure that they have sufficient market networks, required financial ability and proper knowledge relevant to the value chain in question. Likewise, for a farmer to be aggregated, they must meet certain requirements that would enable them to produce quality products.
It is only by adopting a structured aggregation model that small scale farmers in Kenya will achieve economies of scale. Aggregation allows land consolidation without dismantling fences!
Wambugu is a consultant in agribusiness
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