Limited availability of quality agricultural inputs and a lack of modern agronomic knowledge are two of the main reasons for continuing poverty among smallholder farmers in East Africa.
In an interview with MMUST FM, Agrics Project Manager, Wickliffe Ouma said that Agrics strives to enable as many smallholders in the East African region as possible to use quality farm inputs in order to increase their yields to ensure food security and income generation. “Agrics is an agri-focused social enterprise with operations in Kenya and Tanzania where we currently work with about 25,000 small holder farmers. It facilitates their access to farm inputs through credit bundles that include certified seeds, quality fertilizer, poultry, tractor and extension services.” She says adding that throughout the season, their officers provide extension support to ensure that the farmers get maximum return on their investment towards better yields and access to farm inputs is the single most vital intervention in ensuring that these rural households increase their productivity to guarantee food security and household incomes.
Ouma said that External evaluation of Agrics activities showed that the maize production of Agrics clients in Western Kenya went from an average 6 bag (of 90kg each) to 9 bags per farmer after a single year and yields are expected to increase further up to 250% over multiple years. “The realized production increase among Agrics clients provides an indication of the huge potential of smallholder farmers in East Africa. Combining this with the large numbers of smallholders in the region as well as the steep increase in client numbers and total credit amount at first years of Agrics existence, we see a ready yet highly undersupplied market for Agrics.” He said
On innovation the manager says that Agrics, with business and scientific partners Manobi, wageningen University and Biomass Research, received EUR 1, 6 Millon funding from Netherlands Space Office for the deployment of satellite and geodata for the benefit of 200,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya and Tanzania by 2018, adding that Agrics is exploring and developing several innovative business initiatives, such as the introduction of crop and life insurance and the use of mobile money in the credit repayment process.
Ouma noted that since smallholder farmers in Western Kenya own small sizes of land and on average produce 4 bags of 90 Kg of maize per year, Agrics offers certified seeds and fertilizer to them, through credit bundles, which improves their harvest and income significantly. “We offer certified seeds and fertilizer to these farmers through credit bundles. The farmers then make their payments in installments spread over 7 months during their weekly farmer group meetings. In addition to this, each farmer receives local vegetable seeds and the option of enrolling for poultry which acts not only as sources of income from the sale of vegetables and eggs but also as crucial sources of vitamins and protein supplements to their diet.”
To ensure the farmer attains maximum output, the manager said that Agrics offers training through out the crop life cycle-from land preparation to post harvest handling. “Working closely with the ministry of agriculture, we are able to train selected farmers from each community who thereafter act as the resident extension support provider and through interaction with farmers, they are able to have quick access to technical support, learn new agronomic practices and improve their application of knowledge acquired onto their fields.”
He said that to show small farmers the differences in output, Agrics has set up several demonstration plots. “Being a poor smallholder farmer, you want to be sure that investing the little money you have in those input pays off. The demonstration plot gives clear evidence for one half of the plot is being sowed with different maize varieties, the other half is being sowed with the same seeds plus fertilizer and after a month the difference is already quite clear.”
The project manager further says that Agrics has its own research station, located in Shimanjiro, Western Kenya. “In this station seed varieties are constantly tested to find out which ones work best and are most profitable to add to the farm inputs catalogue. In addition new crops and other products are investigated, like the introduction of a fish pond for cultivating tilapia for example.” He said adding that Moreover, the plot of the research station is been used for cultivating sunflowers and maize that are used to mix chicken feed.
Agrics works together with Geodatics to provide smallholder farmers with tailor made advice on their plot of land in order to increase yields even more. It provides information and advice on e.g. the amount, type and composition of fertilizer to be applied, timing of seeding, fertilizer application and harvesting, livestock, household waste and crop residue management, actual market information like prices and buyers and weather developments.