Why smallholder farmers in Kenya are poor: My logical analysis

Is it game over for  smallholder farmers?  

Smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are unlikely to farm themselves out of poverty by farming alone
Source: FAO

Why are smallholder farmers poor?

I did a logical analysis to demonstrate why smallholders cannot farm themselves out of poverty.  The chart above summarizes Kenya’s smallholders farm diversification. As you can see, maize makes up for more than half (58%) of a smallholders’ farm production. Together with maize, smallholders cultivate sorghum, millet, cassava, potatoes, but also beans and vegetables.

My analysis is based on the following facts:

  •  The average land size of smallholder farmers in Kenya is less than 2 Hectares (FAO),
  • Average size of a household is 6 heads
  • Currently, the average maize yield in Kenya is 1.5 tons per hectare. If farmers can have full access to all inputs, this potential can go as high as 8 tons per hectare:   
  •  A bag of 90 Kgs of maize fetches a net profit of Ksh 2000 ($20) in Kenya,

Here is where the rubber meets the road, let us do the math:

 Assuming that smallholders have full access to requisite inputs, knowledge, and market, and that maize production is guaranteed at 8 tons/ hectare. This implies that:

  • The net profit from a 2 hectares piece of land  will be Ksh 355,500 ($3,555)
  • Kenya has only one growing season  .This means the average income per household per month is Ksh 29,600 ($296),
  •  A household has six individuals on average, each receives Ksh 4,900 ( $49) per month, equivalent to Ksh 160 ($1.6) dollars per day, which is below the poverty line. Mind you my analysis is based on base case scenario!
      That is why smallholder farming is a vicious cycle. Farming alone, as practiced currently,  shall never drive smallholder farmers out of poverty.
      That is not to say that smallholders should not be supported. Neither does it mean that smallholder farming cannot create wealth. The issue, rather, is what kind of support best suits their circumstances???
      My recommendations:
  1.        Conversion from maize farming to high value crops,
  2.        Value addition of cereals to animal protein
  3.      Aggregation 
  4.       Land consolidation!
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  1. Thanks for the information. Can you do an article about the difference between commercial farming and garden farming. I know it’s a different way of thinking.

  2. 2000 is the price for maize per bag at farm gate price. Middlemen then sell to cereals board. In reality the farmer gains nothing. The cost of production is the issue to handle. Even high value crops face the same challenge. For a long time we have neglected soil and water management. We have never addressed the root cause of nose diving yields and sky rocketing costs of production

  3. Seems for maize you only analysed the high altitude zones where maize is grown only once ..I stand to be corrected but the food basket regions may be doing maize for 2 seasons..I love your analysis but looks biased

    1. Thanks. Judith. I calculated using 1 season best case harvest scenario. If you consider two seasons for per year, it will give you $3.2 per family member per day. Slightly above poverty line.


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