How President Ruto can fix Kenya’s agriculture once and for all

Mr President, Fertilizer subsidy is welcome but not enough

As President William Ruto embarks on his journey to transform Kenya’s economy through agriculture, there exist a number of structural problems that Mr President must deal with head-on if his agenda to make agriculture a true source of livelihood is to come true.

Kenyan farmers are exited with Ruto’s presidency for two reasons: First, his passion for agriculture, and second, his admission and appreciation that for Kenya’s economy to grow, farmers must lead the way. Ruto understands that, his bottom-up model, as applied in agriculture, should start by securing the farming downstream and ensure farmers have affordable access to agricultural inputs. He went with speed to ensure that subsidized fertilizer reaches farmers a few days after his inauguration. This is very positive and timely Mr President. Kudos!

In the context of farming as practiced in Kenya today, access to agricultural inputs specifically fertilizer is just a tip of the iceberg. A lot more, and urgent obstacles exist, and President Ruto must intentionally work on them, otherwise, the stand-alone fertilizer subsidy intervention will just go to waste.

This is my humble piece of advice to our beloved president on how to fix the Kenyan smallholder farming and make it viable sustainably:

i.                     Through structural changes in the small-scale-farm management, Ruto must establish strategies that ensure economy of scale is achieved. For example, through the current fertilizer subsidy program, the government will be dealing with almost ten millions farmers who come in front of NCPB to solicit for the fertilizer. With the economy of scale approach, the government must reorganize farmers into groups whereby the government supports one individual who in return, supports hundreds of farmers. There individuals must be agribusiness technocrats with the end to end know-how of agribusiness value chains. I call such individuals aggregators in one of my previous articles. You can read it and find out how aggregation works. Like politics is a game of numbers, agriculture is a game of scale. The government must conduct research on how smallholder farmers can pool their operations together. Be it through land consolidation, aggregation, outsourcing etc, something must be done. Kenya cannot continue having ten million accounts of different farmers.

ii.                   Secondly, President Ruto must appreciate the fact that not all crops grown in Kenya can create value to the farmers. Through my observation research, all smallholderfarmers who grow maize have never made ends meet. Small-scale maize farming has never liberated anyone from poverty. Why? Maize and other grain crops like wheat and barley can only be viable if grown on large scale. When grown in small-scale, they can only be destined for self-consumption or sold in the cheap local markets. In an ideal large-scale corn farming, corn become an input farm protein production. Animal feed is expensive in Kenya because farmers cannot produce corn, soya, barley etc at an industrial scale. President Ruto must invest in shifting the focus on maize as human food and make it an input for animal feed production.

iii.                 Harmonizing crops and synchronizing seasons:  President Ruto’s government must make it clear to farmers and community at large, which crops are best suited for growing where. Farmers must be encouraged to grow particular crops at a given time. They should not be left to double-guess. By so doing, the government will harmonize and synchronize the crops and productions seasons. These two are very key factors to accessing markets and achieving industrial scale production with small-scale farms.

iv.                 Volume versus Value crops: President Ruto must appreciate the fact that Kenya has two types of crops: Volume crops and Value crops. Volume crops are crops that only produce value when grown in large scale while value crops are high yielding and attracts high prices in small volumes. Most often, value crops are relatively expensive to produce and delicate to handle during post-harvest. Vegetables, horticulture, fruit crops are some examples of high value crops. The government must have two separate strategies on how to support the two types of crops.

v.                   Finally, mechanization: National and county governments must reduce their direct involvement in the procurement of tractors and agricultural machinery for farmers. Instead, they must support farmers through public-private-partnerships. The government should not buy machinery and rent them out to farmers, instead, the government should support farmers through subsidies to purchase their own machinery. However, only farmers who meet certain criteria can qualify for subsidies. Equally, individual contractors can be beneficiary of subsidies if they can marshal a certain number on farmers and certain area of land under them.

In conclusion, it is time to approach Kenya’s agriculture from a deep strategic point. Piece-meal interventions like fertilizer alone is not sustainable. We must admit that the structure of our land today does not allow our agriculture to become commercial. President Ruto must tackle the above issues head-on without fear or compromise. Deep structural changes must take place for agriculture to become a motor of poverty alleviation in Kenya. If not, false hope and poverty cycle will remain as the status quo.


Joseph Wambugu

Agribusiness consultant and mechanization expert