More market power for Kenya's farmers

Boosting Kenyan farmers’ income and production through farmers’ groups and collective marketing

Farmers harvesting sorghum in Tharaka Nithi county. ©FAO/Tian Cai


More and more farmers in some of the poorest areas of southern and central Kenya are working their land and selling their produce as a group, based on agreements with buyers.

This way of farming gives poor farmers more negotiating and market power, and helps them better plan what and how much to grow. They also have a clear idea of their produce’s price and best time to sell it.

Since 2015, some 15,000 farmers have been joining forces to form groups and practice collective marketing. Each group has 15-30 farmers, and a few farmers’ groups constitute a community-based organization (CBO), which is normally registered with the county government.

A ten-fold increase in sorghum production

“We came together so that we can meet our challenges. We realized we were making no profit from our farming. We learnt this new way of farming through the project and we are now expanding from one to four acres; some even to 20 acres,” said Purity Gatiria Njeru, head of one of the farmers’ groups in Tharaka Nithi county.

A farmer testing the grains' moisture level to ensure the crop meets quality standards (left). Farmers use sprinkler irrigation to grow better crops (right). ©FAO/Tian Cai

They are growing mainly sorghum, but also beans, mung beans and fruit. 

Before the project, farmers in Purity’s group would harvest 100 kilogram (kg) of sorghum per acre. Now it is over one ton of sorghum per acre - a ten-fold increase.

The price has also risen from 25 Kenyan Shillings per kilogram of sorghum to 32-38 Shillings.

New skills and way of farming

As part of the FAO-supported process, farmers have been trained in: conservation agriculture; how to reduce production costs and post-harvest losses; how to ensure that their produce meets quality standards, for example, by measuring grain moisture levels; and how to better select and package their produce.

Through their farmers’ groups and CBOs, farmers can also access loans to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides at a lower cost as well as hire equipment, such as planting machines known as ‘direct planters’ that make planting faster and easier.

The machines can till (prepare the land), plant and fertilize the soil at the same time. The aim is to reduce ploughing (to minimize soil disturbance) – one of the three principles of conservation agriculture.

Farmers using a threshing machine for sorghum. ©FAO/Tian Cai

The results?

Better quality and more crops, and a steady, higher income for farmers.

With the extra money, farmers can send their children to school, improve their living conditions and invest more money in their farms.

“We managed to open a bank account [after joining the group] and started saving. Now we have some money saved; we bought a motorbike [to transport the produce to the collection centre] and other things. We can even give loans to other farmers,” says John Kirugi, who is a farmer part of Purity’s group, standing in a tall field of sorghum.

Growing more sorghum – Kenyan farmers’ newest darling

It is not only how farmers work their land that has been changing, but also the crops that they are growing.

Faced with frequent droughts, more and more Kenyan farmers are switching from maize to sorghum - a cereal that withstands drought, is sturdy, and easy to grow.

Sorghum is indigenous to East Africa, so Kenyan farmers are returning to a crop that is better adapted and was popular long before the Central American-originated maize was introduced.

Farmers are growing the versatile plant to eat its highly nutritious grains. They also feed the grains to their livestock and use it for ethanol production; use the stems for building materials, and the leaves for animal fodder.

The flowering plant can reach up to four metres and its grains come in a range of colours - chalky white, dark brown, light red and black. From a far, the flowers look like bunches of grapes turned upside down.

What’s next?

In 2018, FAO aims to train over 100,000 farming families in arid and semi-arid areas, and introduce them to the benefits of working in farmers’ groups and practicing collective marketing.

More than 60,000 families will also receive support to better connect to markets.

They live in areas with the highest rate of poverty - over 75 percent compared to the national average of 45 percent – and where food security remains a major concern.

Despite this, provided with the needed resources, these regions have an enormous potential to boost the country’s agricultural sector.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth