Most smallholder farmers share the same story, especially those who rely on rain-fed agriculture. Poverty is the story!

I critique smallholder farming because of my passion for agriculture. Son of a smallholder farmer in Kenya, read the story of my life. Joseph Wambugu
Joseph Wambugu 2009

Story of a son of a smallholder farmer-Joseph Wambugu

I critique smallholder farming because of my passion for agriculture. I grew up in a family that practiced smallholder farming, and because no one knows where the shoe pinches but he who wears it, today I will narrate a story of my life and of my family.

My grandparents, both maternal and paternal are in their late 80s and still in vibrant good health. They are all smallholder farmers.

Maternal grandparents have been farmers for as long as they can remember. They own a 5-hectare piece of land where they have been growing coffee for the past 40 or so years. During the harvesting season, they always sell their produce to the nearest farmers' cooperative. However, they are only paid twice a year. This is due to the pretext that the cooperative  requires approximately 6 months to accumulate enough quantity to sell to processors or to export.

My paternal grandparent practice mixed farming on a 3 hectares piece of land mostly constituted of maize, beans, vegetables, and fodder crops for their two dairy cattle.

Without going into details of how my grandparents practice farming, the truth is that they did not afford to give my parents and all the other siblings quality education. Lack of school fees was the main reason why my parents never studied past secondary school. This is very painful because, those days, any education beyond secondary school led to a guaranteed well-paying job. 

My parents used to farm on a 2-hectare piece of land when they grew maize, beans, and vegetables. After several years of farming,  they realized that they were not making enough money to pay primary school fees for my 3 siblings and me They decided to relocate to the urban center to seek employment, and that is how my siblings and I managed to get education. Had my parents continued to work on the farm, I don't know where I would be today. Many of my friends whose parents continued farming never completed their primary school education cycle.

I can continue narrating this story on and on, but one thing remains constant: the way my grandparents, my village, and my province were practicing farming those days (the early '90s) is the same way they are practicing it today. However, there are a few success stories from smallholder farmers who had access to irrigation water like rivers or boreholes. Any smallholder farmer who depended on rain shared the same story.

After many years in school and a few years of work experience, I can now give suggestions on what I think should be done to bring the most desired breakthrough to our agriculture, however, serious research work needs to be done on that matter.

Kenyans, and Africans at large,  must shift the conversation from "how to support smallholder farmers with financing and inputs", to "how to radically rethink the entire smallholder ecosystem". And this must be guided by the principle of economies of scale. The absence of the latter constitutes the strongest circumstantial evidence of the smallholders' poverty cycle. 

If you grew up in a village like me, and you have a different kind of story, please feel free to share.

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