By

Ms. Eileen Inyanji Wanyonyi

The agricultural industry in Malava Sub-County faces lots of challenges from various sources. Within the Sub-County is a huge potential for agricultural productivity which has been left untapped by farmers. The area is largely known for production of sugarcane on large acres of land to provide supply for the two sugar factories; West Kenya and Butali sugar factory. Thus, most farmers concentrate more on sugarcane farming leaving little land for other agricultural activities. As such, there has been increased competition amongst themselves as everybody grows sugarcane. Despite the large supply of cane from farmers, the two sugar factories have commercialized permit for cane cutting with most farmers decrying of lack of market for their cane. Besides, if one is lucky to get the cane permit, collection of cut cane from the farm by the factory tracks may take more than a week which leads to decrease in cane content and quantity. This translates to the farmers going to a loss when the cane is measured at the factory gate hence deceasing their income.

Sugarcane farming in Malava Sub-County, Kenya

But why wait for an entire eighteen months yet they can use alterative agricultural ways of improving their agricultural income?

This question led to the birth of Agrofa Market Link, a business platform that creates linkages for farmers to input markets and produce markets.  The idea was born with the urge to help smallholder farmers to gain access to markets. The internship that began in late December, 2020 saw a team of three; led by myself, begin the roadmap to ensure a food secure country through engagement with farmers in the Western part of Kenya. The team led by Eileen Inyanji, managed to get in touch with at least 30 farmers and five farmer groups within Malava Sub-County, engage with agricultural officers from both Kakamega County and Nakuru County Kenya.

Part of Mr. Makuto’s farm that has been set aside for cabbage farming. The farm is being surrounded by sugarcane plantations
Eileen during one of the field visits to Mr. Momanyi’s farm in late December 2020

Most of the smallholder farmers visited did not practise any substance farming and if they did, they practiced it on a small piece of land majorly of consumption. In trying to inquire as to why they did this, most of them claimed that they are used to sugarcane farming and hence most of their piece of land is for that purpose. Only a small piece of land is left for planting crops for consumption purpose. I interacted with Ms. Beatrice who noted that it is very rare to find farmers planting crops. However she also noted that their farming incomes are not substantial to help them survive through a season. Unfortunately for her, all her “shamba” is under sugarcane farming and she has to look for alternative means for farming.

Eileen assisting Ms. Beatrice to store her bananas using traditional method. The bananas are stored in a traditional basket commonly referred to as ‘Shikono’ which has nylon papers inside it. After the bananas are put in, they are covered with the paper and later stored in a cool dry place. The bananas ripen after four days. She sells her bananas in Matete and Mbande markets.
Banana plantations on Ms. Beatrice’s farm and Ms. Beatrice using traditional methods to ripen her bananas for sell. The bananas ripen after four days using this method.

The team also visited Ms. Hannah who is basically a crop farmer. She grows maize, beans, kales and rears chicken for own consumption. Some of the challenges she faces include water logging due to too much rainfall, livestock theft, insufficient agronomic practices such as weeding and still uses conventional methods for instance in the administration of herbs to chicken. We recommended that Hannah to uses litter (Sawdust) in her chicken house as it would help to absorb moisture and keep the place warm.

Eileen Inyanji with Ms. Hannah in her farm

To help farmers like Hannah, Beatrice and Schein improve on their income, their needs to be continuous efforts by agricultural bodies that aim at encouraging a shift from sugarcane farming to substance farming. Changing the mentality of the smallholder farmers in the region proves difficult as they are already used to cash crop farming.

One visit to the local market confirmed lack of food crops in the region forcing traders to search for produce markets from as far as Narok County in Kenya. Sourcing of vegetables products from far made these traders purchase the vegetables at a high price (e.g. Cabbages Kshs.35) which they later transferred it to the buyers (Selling at Kshs. 70) double the price. Unfortunately for them, the buyers are in the middle-class bracket which forces them to sell at a lower price making them go at a loss.

One trader for instance noted that “If we could get someone from within us to sell the cabbages to us, then we would all benefit from the low affordable prices instead of sourcing them from far”. Through the interaction with the traders, the Agrofa team managed to create a demand for Mr. Makuto’s products (Cabbages) which are still in their final growth stage. Certainly, a lot has to be done to ensure that farmers in the region have an alternative way of earning income rather than fully depending on sugarcane farming that takes a whole eighteen months to mature delaying their income sources.

As much as the team tried to manage help farmers, we faced various challenges such as lack of accessing agro-dealer outlets to create input linkages for our farmer database, low technology uptake as most farmers still use outdated technology in farming and rigidity of the farmers to shift from sugarcane farming with most claiming they are just continuing with what their forefathers started and that it is only sugarcane that des well in the area. Practicing crop farming was a waste of time as the crops would be stolen from their farms before their harvest season. We caught up with Ms. Esnas and she had this to say;

“It is not that we do not want to practice farming, we would love to. However, I tried planting maize on my half an acre piece of land and harvested only quarter of it due to theft from neighbors. You plant but people take advantage and pluck it from the farm hence I would rather practice sugarcane farming and buy food for consumption”

Yet again one farmer, Mr. Shitanda, also had the same sentiments to Ms. Esnas and noted that theft of food crops was so high that it forced his father to ask them to go back to sugarcane farming.

Ms. Eileen Inyanji Wanyonyi is pursuing her Master of Science in Agribusiness Management at Egerton University, Kenya. She can be contacted through: P.O Box 1278-50205, Webuye. Tel: +254 702 222 541. Email: einyanji261@gmail.com.

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