Africa is being deemed as the new frontier with interests from across the globe. Within the East Africa region, Kenya is at the centre of diverse conferences, meetings and expos, all geared towards bringing foreign investments into the country or discussing issues of trade and development. From the WTO 10th Ministerial Meeting, Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD), and Africa Green Revolution Forum among many forums.
To many, these meetings and dealings are deemed to benefit the country and to create so called jobs that have never materialized for Kenyan youth. Concealed within these summits are major bilateral and multilateral dealings to open markets further for manufactured goods from the global north as well countries such as China and Japan.
African agriculture continues to deteriorate, with the numbers of hungry people growing by the day. As Walden Bello observed, in the 1960s Africa was a net exporter of food averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-1970, today, the continent imports 25% of its food with almost every country being a net importer. Globally, there are 925 million hungry people .795 million people world wide unable to access adequate food are farmers. According to the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), three quarters of the world’s hungry live in rural areas and depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood.
Majority of the undernourished and hungry people (852 million) people live in developing countries. In Africa, the number of hungry people has increased from 175 million to 239 million; this has been as a result of increase in droughts, increasing temperature, monoculture and land grabbing. Africa’s food crisis originates from diverse problems from land grabs, water grabs and producing what we do not eat. Capture of Africa’s food system by corporates has resulted into farmers being pushed away from their land, seeds are becoming extinct as farmers have to buy seeds from agro-vets of whose productivity is uncertain.
For smallholder farmers, these summits mean more pressure to buy agro-chemicals from foreign companies that manufacture them under the guise that they are capable of enhancing productivity. It is quite sad to hear that in the absence of agricultural extension services, agro-chemical companies representatives are visiting farmers to provide advise on agricultural production while in reality they are promoting the fertilizers, herbicides and seeds for the companies they work for.
As Thuo, a farmer in Machakos laments, “ What is currently being sold as pesticides is in fact water mixed with chalk and it does not work”. This is further echoed by Patricia Kithuka who says “What we spray on our land is not pesticides but water, they sell us fake pesticides, after three days, the pests come back and destroy our crops”-
Furthermore, no company has ever come out in the open to tell farmers – the would be customers that overuse of fertilizers will deplete their soil’s fertility, or that genetically modified seeds have terminator gene hence cannot reproduce for more than one season. These are usually top secrets that when divulged means no profits for corporates and less power to control what we eat, how we eat it and when we eat. Onesmus Kioko- Chair Machakos Small Scale Farmers Association speaks out “ Our soil is in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and if our soil is threatened, our future is also threatened “
There is an increased push on smallholder farmers to mechanize, to produce for sale, while not recognizing the fact that 80% of producers who feed the world are smallholder farmers. Additionally many commitments are made to improve agriculture but in reality these funds benefit large-scale farmers while the poor farmer agonizes where he/she will get seeds for the next season because what they had grown this seasons never germinated, but large scale producers who continue to rake profits from agricultural production.
Many small holder farmers in Kenya share that their greatest challenges include: a system that allows for exploitation of farmers by seed companies, lack of regulatory systems when buying seeds (e.g. losses due to purchase of expired seeds), lack of compensation in the events that they purchase expired, misinformation due to over promotion of conventional fertilizers and seeds by local radio stations and lack of updated information. Additionally, smallholder farmers are largely affected by the presence of middlemen who continue to exploit farmer’s sweat while maximizing profits as well as inability to control prices. Moreover, voices of smallholder farmers are never heard when decisions on agriculture are being made, what is decided is imposed on farmers.
Politicization of hunger continues more so in vulnerable communities where each electioneering period, farmers are promised irrigation pumps and water connectivity due to prolonged droughts, furthermore, some parts of the country have been permanently on food aid, this is a violation of dignity of the human person.
Against this backdrop, an alternative model is emerging, a model anchored on Food Justice, where farmers get platforms to discuss what is ailing their farms, share their experiences and correct “ historical mistakes on their land”.
Through being empowered with knowledge and information on how to test their soils, farmers in Gatundu and Machakos are regenerating their soil fertility and learning how to produce better without using fertilizers. Furthermore, farmers learn how to care for their crops including biological control of pests and diseases as well as practical ways of harvesting, post harvest care for crops and how to improve the shelf life of their produce at the local levels.
During food justice tafakari forums farmers in Gatundu (Central Kenya) and Machakos (Eastern Kenya) reminisce nostalgically the 1980s when there was plenty or rainfall active extension services, many varieties of food existed, less expenses, ready markets and good harvest. When they look at 2015, henceforth, there is a lot of mechanized farming which small holder farmers cannot afford, this is coupled with a non-functional agricultural extension service that the few which exist when they visit farmers, the farmer has to bear the costs of advisory services given.
Farmers in these localities share that their crops have improved and have started field days in their own farms. As John Nthenge shares “ I have started a field day in my homestead and I teach my children how to farm without using chemicals”. Farmers who are aware of the benefits of agro-ecological farming and are happy that they understand production process better. Additionally these farmers report that farming is no longer a solitary affair and that they can now visit each other and learn from one another.
Across the Kenya-Tanzania border in Arusha, ripples of encouragement are emerging as smallholder farmers break geographical boundaries to share and learn from each other on resistance to corporate capture of food. Using spaces such as Zinduka Festival, farmers members of MVIWATA have joined their counterparts from Machakos and urban farmers in Nairobi to learn from each other on tackling corporate capture of food systems. As Peter Kihenjo of Central Organic Farmers and Consumers Organization (COFCO) a network of small holder farmers in Central Kenya region observes on farmers’ organizing for change” As farmers we need to come together and get organized. The other challenge-affecting farmers is the feeling of inferiority complex, this makes our voices muted”.
Tafakari is a Swahili word for reflection
Zinduka is an annual festival to celebrate belonging to East Africa and cultural diversity