Kingsley Kachenjela, founded the popular Facebook group Small Scale Farmers (Farming as business) (397 000 followers) to provide farmers with a platform to access and share relevant agricultural information. A man who believes that action must follow talk, Kingsley spoke about finding markets for farmer produce, at Zambia’s recent Agritech Expo.
Zambia’s roughly 1.5 million small-scale farmers, said to provide 90% of the country’s agricultural produce, need access to decent markets where they can set, rather than take, prices, says Kingsley Kachenjela. The first step towards empowerment is farmer unity through organisation, he told his farmer audience.
Speaking at an interactive workshop at the 2018 Agritech Expo Zambia, Kingsley discussed issues around finding suitable markets for farm produce. “In pre-colonial times food security was never a problem,” said Kingsley. “Barter was the format for trade.”
Commercial copper trading and the wage labour system changed this system, Kingsley explained, leaving rural areas depopulated and many rural households and communities food insecure. More recently there has been a “back to the land” shift as urban people begin to see farming as a worthwhile activity. “Government support through programmes like FISP, and digital platforms that allow knowledge sharing, have been gamechangers for small-scale farmers,” Kingsley said.
However, markets remain difficult for small-scale farmers who face low, and even dramatically low, prices especially in times of oversupply.
“Price undercutting by market middlemen, favoured by political cadres, is another problem for small-scale farmers,” he said. Urging farmers to get together and lobby for bylaws to stop middlemen from operating in produce markets, Kingsley said there are times when farmers must sell produce at below production cost. This effectively makes slaves of the small-scale farmers.
Although Zambian small-scale farmers are producing, they do not have the organised platforms they need for marketing. “Farmers go nowhere without a market and the markets are there – a prime example is the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Kingsley.
Researching market access, looking at product value, and export potential are steps to take before seed goes into the ground, not after the harvest. Ideally a farmer should have sold his crop before he plants it.
Marketing agricultural produce is not structured and there are few standards, said Kingsley. “When standards are properly set up and implemented, we can export. In this field Kenya is ahead of us.”
Once financially healthy marketing systems are in place, the creation of agro-processing businesses will more easily follow through. “The region can reap a demographic dividend, with a handsome payback, by creating employment for young people through value-adding in the agricultural space.”
With 10 000 graduates on the job market every year and only 500 jobs the agricultural sector presents enormous potential for work. “We need young people in agriculture and we should start agricultural education from as early as pre-school,” said Kingsley.
FARMER ORGANISATION AND UNITY
The challenge for farmers, said Kingsley, is to find and learn ways to work together, to form farmer groups, to unite on common ground. Farmer co-ops offer farmers a vehicle in which to drive unity. The key principles to maintain in groups like the co-op, are to keep the structure light (avoiding unwieldy and cumbersome regulations), and to keep farmer concerns and needs paramount.
Co-ops hold the possibility of transforming the agricultural life and business of small-scale farmers across the region, but the farmers themselves must take responsibility for setting up co-ops and for keeping them relevant to farmer needs. “Once the co-op is formed, members can begin to push their agendas,” said Kingsley.
Organised farmer groups have the power to influence policy makers, a tool used worldwide by farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector. “We really need to sit down as small-scale farmers and get organised,” said Kingsley. “This is how we will successfully address the challenges we face.”
For instance, it is common knowledge that small-scale farmers are harassed on the roads when transporting their goods to market. But, said Kingsley, if farmers got together and organised small vehicles to transport produce this kind of difficulty could be a thing of the past.
“Rather than rushing toward the money, the first focus should be on farmer challenges and how to solve them.” By implication, a good foundation will allow farmers to reap the rewards of their efforts after sensible progress has been made.
“People will go to the land if they know that you can farm and create wealth,” Kingsley said. The small-scale farmers carry the responsibility of making that message a reality and they need all the help they can get to make it so.
“It’s my prayer that the organisers of Agritech put even greater focus on addressing market issues as part of their programme.”