Monday, January 01, 2001

Kenya’s Hidden or Not So Hidden Treasure-Agriculture!

Republished on The Benin Epilogue with Permission of Kenyan Empowerment News

Kenya’s Hidden or Not So Hidden Treasure-Agriculture!

by Benin “Mwangi” Brown

These days, when one browses through the latest online edition of any one of Kenya’s popular online news publications, it is really easy to pick up a renewed sense of optimism about Kenya’s business and economy. And rightfully so; in fact, I’d be willing to bet that if we went trough today’s any of today’s headlines from Kenya’s widely read news publications we’d find rather optimistic business news. The business headlines would probably read something like this, “Kenya’s robust tourism industry growth”, or maybe an article describing how “Kenyan capital funds the stock markets of neighboring countries”, still yet you might read about yet “another stock split on the Nairobi Stock Exchange”, and so on and so on. Now think about it, if you decided to study these headlines, over time, then you may come to notice that writers seem to put a heavy emphasis on the nation’s more glamorous or let’s say exciting business industries or activities. This would tend to make one feel like Kenya’s business environment must be really, really diverse, after all out of all of these headlines only a few mentions agriculture. Even in our random conversations, I even noticed recently myself that it’s rare that I tell someone, “Gee, I think I want to start a farm in Kenya”. But don’t you think that in a way we are all doing this industry a disservice by forgetting about it so often? Please, don’t feel guilty, either; it’s certainly not my point to have anyone in tears after reading this. It’s just that, it seemed like a good time to remind everyone, myself included, that we can all play a tremendous part in the part of Kenya’s economic development by supporting an industry that is so vital to the economy of a place that many of us call home.

Before going further, let me say that this will not be a dissertation, I only want to make a few points here and then let you go on to ponder their impact. Now let’s take a look at why agriculture in Kenya is still alive and well and shouldn’t be ignored as an investment, an occupation, hobby, or a suggestion to others. At present, it accounts for roughly 80% of Kenya’s employment and accounts for roughly one third of Kenya’s gross domestic product. Additionally, farming in Kenya is typically carried out by very small producers; they make up roughly 75% of Kenya’s total production.

Here is another interesting fact about farming in Kenya, the majority of these farmers, after expenses, have very small incomes. This is due to several factors. Primarily, the two biggest roadblocks for Kenya’s small farmers are lack of information about the produce prices on the daily commodities market and the number of middlemen that the farmers must cede a portion of their profits to in order to get paid. Recently, however, developments have come about which will likely change this pattern to the farmers’ benefit. Mobile phone access in the rural areas and a momentous worldwide movement, called the Fair Trade movement, seem to be shifting the tides back in the favor of Kenya’s smaller agribusinesses. This trend could signal the coming of a new frontier for investment opportunities in Kenya. The great possibility for investors in the Diaspora to experience up-side is probably the greatest reason for me choosing this topic, as opposed to some of the others that are out there.

Before we go into the “how” it might be more appropriate to remind you of the why, right? Here are my reasons why we may want to stay more focused on agriculture as a serious economic endeavor in Kenya. As someone who tries to follow economic policy and development, to me this topic means greater economic participation from Kenya’s largest income bracket, which could in turn mean more accountability from politicians representing this demographic. It could also mean investing in a market which already exhibits strong upward trends. From the social standpoint, helping Kenya’s small farmers become more profitable also means helping Kenya’s overall economy expand. Currently, Kenya’s GDP growth rate is 5.8% per year. Perhaps, the biggest reason to me though is that if we publicly esteem this industry then tomorrow, when our kids become decision makers or there kids for that matter, there will be professional farmers out there who did it because it was something that they knew we’d be proud of or that this was a way for them to make a big difference in Kenya’s overall wellbeing. But again, these are only my reasons that it would make sense for me to find a way to help support, invest in, or promote Kenya’s small farmers. Let me also note that this doesn’t have to be on a large scale, either, if enough people participate. So, now the question might be- what about your reasons?

Now, is where we can take a look into the “how” of supporting and acknowledging Kenya’s small farmers and agric industry. There are several ways that you could do this, while still residing here in America. One, you could find retailers that sell Fair Trade products from Kenya and start purchasing some of your products there. Two, you could donate to a non- profit organization that supports fair trade in Kenya. Three, you might decide to investigate this idea further and actually fund a portion or all of farmer’s expansion costs yourself. Again, keep in mind that expansion in this context need not be larger or fancy, it could mean helping this person to purchase a GSM phone that could work in a rural setting or it could mean helping this farmer or group of farmers spend the funds to find direct buyers-perhaps a website. Four, you might already know someone here in America that may already be in the market for the products that a friend, family member, or old acquaintance produces on their farm-you might play matchmaker. Five, you could help invest in the actual plot of land that the farmer grows produce on. Anyhow, the possibilities here are just endless. The underlying theme is that if you allow small scale agriculture to exist within your realm of possibilities, be it in financial or social investments, sooner or later the right opportunity will present itself and you will be able to do something about it.

Helping in this war could trigger a cascade of positive events that over time and scale could help to build your personal fortunes and perhaps more importantly Kenya’s as well. And I don’t know about you, but someday I will retire in Kenya, and a happy and healthy Kenya means a better life for me and my family. Isn’t that all the more reason to find a way to help support and grow Kenya’s small produce industry? You don’t have to take my word for it though. But still, I challenge you to just try it out and see for yourself. And hey, if it doesn’t work out at the very least you are almost certainly guaranteed that someone, it could be much later on down the road, will show you kind gratitude.

Benin “Mwangi” Brown is the editor and author of The Benin Epilogue: Africa Ready for Business web log, which can be found at Benin may be contacted at beninmwangi-at-gmail dot com .

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