All any farmer really desires is the ability to sustainably produce and profitably market their crops or livestock. Such a simple aspiration, one might say, yet quite difficult to achieve. In Kenya, as in other parts of the world, the hard work of smallholder farmers often fails to pay off. They find themselves facing a range of seemingly insurmountable challenges. And amid these challenges, finding the right support often seems out of reach.
According to the Kakamega County Farmers’ Association (KACOFA), a devolved farmers’ federation in western Kenya, the answer partly lies in low involvement of farmers in the policy-making process. The Association states that this disconnect between farmers and policymakers is responsible for, among other problems, poor provision of extension services. This not only affects the agricultural development aspirations of county governments but fails to meet the food security and livelihood needs of rural residents.
Joseph Ngaa, Kakamega County Farmer Association (KACOFA) former Chairperson
Consequently, farmers feel largely left on their own to counter challenges such as declining soil fertility, soil contamination and erosion; vulnerability to climate change and erratic weather patterns; limited access to land, especially by women, youth, and people living with disabilities; smallholders’ limited access to markets, and low financial inclusion.
Linking farmers and policy makers
The Governor’s Day with Farmers is a direct policy response to this disconnect. It emerged from a consultative process led by KACOFA and partner community-based women’s organisation, Shibuye Community Health Workers. With support from TMG, the two organisations sought the views of a broad range of farmers across all 12 sub-counties in Kakamega. At the organisations’ request to establish a structured process to receive such inputs directly from farmers, the County Government proposed – and endorsed at Cabinet level – an annual “Governor’s Day with Farmers.”
On Monday, 21 February 2022, a day ahead of the first edition of Governor’s Day with Farmers (GDF), TMG’s Managing Director Alexander Mueller paid a courtesy call to H.E. Prof. Phillip Kutima, the Deputy Governor of Kakamega. Also present at the meeting was Geoffrey Omulayi, the Minister for Agriculture in Kakamega and Joseph Ngaa, the outgoing Chairperson of KACOFA. The two-hour discussions centred on each stakeholders’ expectations for the Governor’s Day with Farmers.
From left to right: Larissa Stiem Bhatia, Programme Lead - Nature-based Solutions, TMG Research; Alexander Mueller, Managing Director, TMG Research; Prof. Phillip Kutima, Deputy Governor, Kakamega County; Geoffrey Omulayi, County Executive Committee Member (Minister), Agriculture, Kakamega; Ambassador James Ochami, County Secretary, Kakamega
Representing Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, Prof. Kutima reiterated the role of agriculture as the foundation of development. He pointed out the initiatives put in place by the county since 2013 including providing subsidised farm inputs; launching agricultural education programmes, and promoting adoption of dairy farming. Additionally, Prof. Kutima stated that the GDF is yet another layer in the development agenda by facilitating synergy between farmers and county policymakers.
Alexander Mueller noted that interactions between government and farmers is vital in formulation of high-level policies that are executable at the local level. He also stressed the need to strengthen the institutionalisation of initiatives such as the GDF including incorporation into the County’s Integrated Development Plan. The Managing Director concluded by giving TMG Research’s continued support for sustainable agricultural projects to boost food production while protecting natural resources such as soil.
On his part, Kakamega County Farmer Association’s outgoing Chairperson Joseph Ngaa, thanked the County Government for realising a vision that farmers have had since 2015. He mentioned that the GDF presents a platform through which they can hold meaningful dialogues with policymakers and propose homegrown solutions to policy gaps.
Since agriculture is a devolved function, many of the policies that affect farmers’ daily lives are made by County Governments. This gives Governors a huge influence over the agricultural policy-making process. In view of this, the GDF was proposed as a platform through which farmers can directly interact with the county’s top policymakers to share their concerns, needs and interests.
During the forum, farmers contribute to the design of county agricultural programmes and projects with a strong emphasis on matters such as sustainable land management and provision of adequate extension services. Furthermore, farmers get to provide feedback on the county's performance regarding farmer support, especially for the most vulnerable and propose ways of improving the sector.
The Kakamega Governor’s Day with Farmers will also set an example that can be followed by other county governments. It will provide a basis on how to proactively engage farmers in the policy-making process to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of agricultural extension services. It is expected that the outcomes of the Governor’s Day with Farmers will be policies that empower farmers to reach their individual aspirations while contributing to national food security, sustainably.