To make agriculture an economic giant, let’s have structured value chains

Traders sell tomatoes at the Muthurwa market in Nairobi. In a structured producer system, the farmer grows what the market requires, delivers the harvest to a market and is paid within an agreed period.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Why would a trader opt to make fake tomato sauce when tomatoes are in season? Both scenarios smack of farmer exploitation, the bitter reality in the ugly face of the disconnect between production and marketing in the country’s entire fresh produce value chain.
  • The Nakuru-based fake tomato sauce trader was arrested and charged, eliciting debate as to whether we shouldn’t go beyond the criminal element and tap into his creativity, learn a few valuable lessons about the need for a more supportive environment for cottage industries. 
  • In a structured producer system, the farmer grows what the market requires, delivers the harvest to a market and is paid within an agreed period. This way he is able to plan his production cycle within an agribusiness setup.

Two incidents in the past two weeks have generated substantial debate on value addition. 

The first one is about farmers selling their produce in extended tomato crates in Narok and the second is about a fake tomato sauce factory in Nakuru.

The more than double the capacity packaging and mixing of chemicals passed off as the popular food additive has left observers and industry participants with lots of questions.

Why would a trader opt to make fake tomato sauce when tomatoes are in season? Both scenarios smack of farmer exploitation, the bitter reality in the ugly face of the disconnect between production and marketing in the country’s entire fresh produce value chain.

The Nakuru-based fake tomato sauce trader was arrested and charged, eliciting debate as to whether we shouldn’t go beyond the criminal element and tap into his creativity, learn a few valuable lessons about the need for a more supportive environment for cottage industries. 

Pragmatic school of thought

The more pragmatic school of thought went further to suggest that instead of locking him up, he could be supported and trained to set up a processing facility within the law and kick off a revolution in value addition at the village level.

Not too long ago, cabbages were being sold for as low as Sh2 in an upmarket retail chain. 

Similarly, milk was being poured in Nyandarua, tomatoes rotting on farms in Laikipia, heaps of avocados rotting in Kayole, and many other wastage stories. 

There is an urgent need to look seriously into coordinated production, collection, storage, and processing and distribution of fresh produce across the counties.

As Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya embarks on the implementation of the Agriculture Sector Transformation 2020-2030, it is critical for policymakers to understand that in the absence of structured value-chains, increased production that leads to wastage at harvest is a waste of time and resources.  

The Kenyan producer of today is not a knowledge-poor farmer. Our growers know probably more than technocrats about production procedures.

Transform agriculture 

My interaction with many in the course of my work shows that their key concern is marketing and profitable farm-gate price.

In the absence of aggregation centres, buyers appear at the gate and give the lowest price and the farmer opts for the throw-away offer instead of throwing away the produce.

In a structured producer system, the farmer grows what the market requires, delivers the harvest to a market and is paid within an agreed period. This way he is able to plan his production cycle within an agribusiness setup.

Our current amorphous agriculture production and marketing environment is unsustainable and must be reformed if we hope to transform agriculture into the economic giant it should be. Empower the farmer and all of us will be happy.

nelsonmaina@elgonkenya.com, satnation@ke.nationmedia.com 

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.