State to tighten noose on errant farmers societies

August 23, 2012
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Otieno said making farming more attractive is necessary to engage the youth/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 23 – The government is considering tightening supervision of smallholder farmer cooperatives to boost their efficiency.

Poor governance in the country’s farmer cooperatives has sparked concerns by stakeholders over the negative effect it has had on the productivity of the agricultural sector.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that in Kenya, savings and credit cooperatives have assets worth $2.7 billion (Sh226 billion), which account for 31 percent of gross national savings.

Public Service Minister Dalmas Otieno Onyango, who spoke during the Kenya Agricultural Transformation Forum on Wednesday, said the government would need to tighten supervision of cooperatives to ensure that they operate efficiently.

“We have to apply the leadership codes to the farmer organisations and the supervisory machinery through the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Gender and Ministry of Cooperatives should be hands on in ensuring these cooperative groups perform,” he said.

Otieno said there has not been enough action at the grassroots level to mobilize smallholder farmers, in part because of the lack of leadership capacity building in the cooperatives.

“We have to start the process of screening the cooperative society leadership because they are the ones who killed cooperatives during the era when leaders were exploiting the land through corruption,” he said.

Involving the youth, Otieno added, is crucial in moving agriculture forward. However, making farming more attractive he said, is necessary to engage them.

“We have to making farming interesting to the youth. It will not be interesting to the youth if they have to use jembes (hoes). It will not be interesting if an acre is going to give less than 30 bags,” he said.

Currently, agriculture accounts for 23 percent of Kenya’s GDP, with 3.8 million people directly employed in the sector.

The over-reliance on maize as a staple crop in the country has resulted in several net farmers producing 3.3 metric tonnes against a demand of 3.5 tonnes.

Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said local farmers will have to look into diversifying their crop production to sustain the agricultural sector as a result.

“Cassava is becoming such a good product in Western Kenya, but it only survives for not more than 48 hours and we don’t have processing technologies to preserve it. Cassava could easily replace maize in terms of starch for industrial usage,” she said.

Post harvest losses are up to between 30 percent and 40 percent of produce in some parts of the country, which is further frustrated by weak market linkages and lack of value addition technology.

Cassava is often viewed as a resilient crop, capable of withstanding poor soil and climatic conditions thus making it an attractive alternative considering the damaging effects of climate change on the country’s food security.

With the cooperative movement dying, Karuku says farmers are finding it harder to access financing to get the necessary farm inputs.

The government is working with AGRA and some private financial institutions to design and implement a special fund known as the Kenya Incentive-based-Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (KIRSAL).

“It is expected to leverage at least $500 million (Sh42 billion) of financing for more than 1.5 million smallholder farmers, as well as over 10,000 agribusinesses,” Karuku explained.

African governments committed that by 2013, 10 percent of their national budget allocation would go to agriculture development at the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which Kenya has exceeded with 11 percent.

This is expected to boost the continent’s annual growth by at least six per cent.

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