NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 13 – Nearly 200,000 small holder farmers from across the country will be the major beneficiaries of a USAID-supported initiative designed to improve productivity and competitiveness in the horticulture industry.
Through the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP), the United States agency hopes to introduce new seed varieties and farming techniques for various crops such as sweet potatoes and tomatoes from where farmers can get better yields.
“We are trying to develop new technologies with the private sector so that we can introduce mini greenhouses, new varieties so that they (farmers) can grow a better quality product and they can extend their seasons so they don’t all grow at once,” disclosed the Project Director Ian Chesterman.
He said the next step would be to connect the farmers to local and international markets where their produce can fetch better prices.
“We will then try to link to potential processing markets and also to improve marketing structures at the wholesale end feeding the big cities,” he said citing the importance of the big populations in urban towns in supporting the sub-sector.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the Sh2.5 billion programme, Mr Chesterman said they would also support existing stakeholders such as the Agriculture Ministry and the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya to develop an integrated market information system for the industry.
He pointed to the inconsistent market information services which hamper effective planning.
“At the moment there are various disjointed market information systems available and there is no clear information available for national planning, for regional development and for local action. We want to be a supporter of initiatives at the national level to develop these systems,” he pledged.
The KHCP, which runs from July 2010 to February 2015 is a follow up to the 2003-2010 Kenya Horticulture Development Programme which saw some 650,000 small-scale farmers benefit from technical and market linkage services which in turn boosted their incomes.
There have been concerns that the expiry of such intervention measures would erode the gains made in the sector but Agriculture Secretary Wilson Songa was at hand to assure that the government had an exit strategy to ensure that such projects go on uninterrupted.
Mr Songa said the ministry was implementing a number of strategies chief among them entering into partnerships with the private sector to assist it align itself to the various sectoral policy documents.
“For sure in the past, we have not done enough to build capacity for the private sector. We want to engage them as much as possible because we realise that if this sector is to move towards our Vision 2030, the private sector must be the main driver of the industry,” he added.
The official however expressed optimism that by improving efficiencies in the system, the country would be able to produce enough food stocks for its own consumption and even become a net exporter.