High farm output in 2020 is a defining moment for smallholder farmers in Kenya

Despite COVID-19, 2020 has been a very generous year with expected high farm output for smallholder farmers in Kenya. It is estimated that cereals output for this year’s main season will increase by a whopping 20% (up to 4.2 Million tons yearly maize output-FAO) majorly due to the favorable weather conditions notably the above-average long rains. The year 2020 has proven that a highly productive farm cannot be attended to using manual tools or human muscles. African farmers use hands tools for two main reasons:

  1. Less farm productivity, hence, not labor demanding,
  2. Extremely small sizes of land.

As I write this piece, the main harvesting season for cereals is underway in most parts of Kenya and farmers are expecting record-breaking high yields (though still far below the land potential). In Kenya, Nov-Dec is a season for short rains, which means that farmers have a short window to harvest their grains before the onset of the short rains, which have started to drizzle already. This is a big scare to farmers who have not yet harvested their grains, including my mum who has 1.5 Ha of ready-to-harvest wheat.

With too much to harvest, my mum has been looking for a combine harvester for the past two weeks but all in vain. Another neighbor has 5 hectares of highly productive wheat. Both are expecting around 1.5 tons per hectare this year, which is way high compared to 900Kg per hectare last year. Nevertheless, our neighbor told me that she regrets planting too much wheat because now she cannot manage to harvest all of it manually. She has to rely on combine harvester which are expensive and hard to get.

Maize has also done well this year and maize farmers may also find themselves in a similar situation. Even though Kenyan farmers are used to harvesting maize manually, this year it might be business unusual because of two things:

 1. Record high productions that will demand more labor, and

2. Schools have reopened and children who assist parents with farm labor will be in school during this harvest period. In other years, schools close from mid-November till January.

Harvesting is just one problem. How farmers will handle the produce after harvesting in another problem. Most smallholder farmers in Kenya have no safe storage facilities that are large enough to handle the increased production this year. It is, therefore, almost obviously expected that post-harvest losses might be massive this year coupled with very low market prices.

2020 has therefore proven that increased farm productivity alone is not beneficial in any way to smallholder farmers in Kenya. As experts, we need to think and offer a full line of solutions and equipment that allows farmers to increase productivity, harvest, and store their produce, and where possible to connect them to market opportunities.

If farmers do not reap the full benefits of the excellent year 2020, I tend to think that they will become hesitant to invest in their farms in the future. They will desire to harvest “just enough” because when they harvest more, they lose more.