Is Value Addition the Solution to Income Insecurity facing Kenyan Smallholder Farmers?

Among the various challenges Kenyan smallholder farmers continue to face are decreased productivity and limited market participation, which are attributed directly and indirectly to increased land fragmentation that has left households with very little pieces of cultivable lands, reduced soil fertility, changing rainfall patterns and amounts and high input costs that result in the use of low quality seeds and limited fertilizer use, lack of mechanization and post-harvest losses for farmers dealing with highly perishable products.

Value addition has been widely recognized as an important solution that can help these households reduce post-harvest, losses boost their financial position, withstand adversities and strengthen their resilience with the tightening economic ropes. Through the 2005- 2009 Strategic Plan, the Kenyan government recognized that efforts to incorporate more value addition technologies in agricultural value chain systems is the single most important strategy to enabling the sector to keep pace, compete effectively, and fetch better product prices in the local, regional and international markets. The Vision 2030 also considers promotion of value addition at household and community level through trainings and adoption of production technologies as important growth drivers and poverty eradicators.

Adding value in agriculture entails changing a product from its original form to a state deemed more valuable in the market. It can involve simple activities like cleaning, sorting and grading of produce, and after that, selling graded products at varying price ranges depending on their quality. Other everyday examples of value addition transformations are food preservation, packaging of produce, processing Irish potatoes to chips or crisps or coconut fruit to produce oil, extracting ghee and butter from milk, and many more.

Value addition is a reliable avenue for boosting smallholder productivity, increasing marketability of farm produce, improving market access, addressing poverty and tackling the incessant issue of food insecurity. It allows farmers to sell output at much higher prices compared to the ordinary low farm gate prices they always receive whenever they sell their raw output in formal and informal markets. High revenues guaranteed when farmers choose to add value increase the chance of earnings that can be saved and spent on day-to-day household and agricultural expenses. The vast local, regional and international markets provide ready demand for value added commodities as long as they meet the quantity and quality standards.

Therefore, there is a dire need to integrate smallholders in value addition markets, a process that is only achievable through three critical investments; increasing farmers’ know-how through well-designed and organized trainings, increasing funding and credit access to remove financial barriers that constrain commercialization, and rolling out plans that can guarantee access to ready markets. This need has resulted in the unveiling of multi-year long projects like the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) and the National Agricultural Value Chain Development Project (NAVCDP); multimillion dollar World Bank projects aimed at improving, among other areas, smallholder market participation and value addition across different value chains countrywide.

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