Understanding rural aspirations is key to Kenya’s future

Most households didn’t want their future generations to become farmers.
DIVatUSAID/Flickr

By Kai Mausch, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and David Harris, Bangor University

About 8.3 million people living in Kenya’s rural areas farm to feed themselves. They typically have just a few acres of land and depend on rain to grow their crops. This makes them extremely vulnerable to changes in the weather. Many already struggle.

As with other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, rural communities in Kenya are characterised by higher rates of poverty, illiteracy and child mortality. They also have poor access to basic services, such as electricity and sanitation.

As a result, governments and development organisations consider improving farmers’ agricultural performance a priority to solve poverty and hunger.

Yet, after decades of agriculture-centred rural development approaches, progress has been limited. Food insecurity is still widespread and crop yields in farmer fields remain much lower than their potential. Many agricultural technologies – such as improved crop varieties or the use of fertiliser – fail to scale beyond pilot phase.

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One overlooked reason why these technologies aren’t being used at scale could be people’s relative interest in farming and their aspirations beyond farming. There’s evidence in this given that rural incomes are increasingly diversifying.

We argue in our paper that a better understanding of households’ aspirations is key to design successful technologies that will be adopted more widely.

In our research, we interviewed 624 households to explore the aspirations of people living in Kenya’s rural areas. We asked them about their current income sources, investment plans and what they would like their children to do in the future.

We found that only a few households specialised in farming and yet, many self-identified as farmers and said they aspired to increase their agricultural income. This was surprising as the majority of their income often came from sources other than farming. We also found that few aspired for their children to become farmers.

Our findings show that rural Kenyan households can’t just be classified as farmers: there are many different income portfolios and aspirations. And it’s important to listen to people we call “farmers” so policies can be developed that offer innovations that meet their realities, such as training and financial services adapted to a more diversified livelihood portfolio.


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Avoiding the trap of calling all households with farm activity “farmers”, and assuming they have no other interests, may also increase the match between demands and technology adoption.

Not only farmers

The rural economy is not only about agriculture. While many rural Kenyan families have their shamba (plot) and have a strong attachment to the land, not all households are farmers in the traditional understanding.

Our results showed that only a quarter of the families in rural Kenya are full-time farmers. The majority (60%) of farm labourers and households derived most of their income from activities outside farming.

Yet, they still identified as farmers.

When asked about their future, two-thirds aspired to increasing their farm incomes through irrigation access, small livestock or high-value crops like fruits and vegetables. Just a third looked outside the farming sector with suggestions of transport, hair salons, shops or other rural business ventures. But this doesn’t mean these other diverse activities aren’t important – and likely becoming more so all the time.

Income diversification isn’t surprising. Several agriculture experts question the potential of rain-fed smallholder farming, as practised by millions of rural families in sub-Saharan Africa, as a pathway out of poverty.

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Even though much of sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing changes in farm size distribution, the share of small farms under under five hectares is still dominant – as it is in Kenya. Although adopting new technologies generally has positive economic returns per hectare
and could improve the resilience of these farmers, the small size of most farms limits smallholders’ agricultural earning potential. This means that escaping poverty purely based on farming is not possible.

A well thought out rural investment strategy should provide a more diverse portfolio to the rural population.

Future generations

More questions were raised when we looked at household aspirations for future generations.

Very few parents hope for a future in farming for their children. This is in stark contrast to their personal aspirations and investment plans, which mostly involve expansion or intensification of farming.

This finding raises several pertinent questions that should be explored in future research. For example, what is the implication for agricultural innovations now and in the future? If most households foresee their children stepping out, does this mean that they are focused on short-term investments with quick wins?

Though all poor households are probably looking for quick wins, this may mean that even wealthier households might not have the long-term horizons needed to consider investments in practices with delayed benefits such as agroforestry or soil fertility management.

There are also implications for changes in land use patterns, currently characterised by high levels of land fragmentation in densely populated areas.


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If households increasingly step out of farming, would this reverse the trend and enable consolidation of land for the next generation, for example, through people selling or renting out their land? Or is land still perceived as a necessary insurance or for retirement?

These are all important questions for the country’s future that require data and evidence for policymakers to base decisions on.

Capturing what drives the decision-making and aspirations of rural households will help design more effective policies and development initiatives that trigger positive, lasting change within the community.

Kai Mausch, Senior Economist, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and David Harris, Honorary Lecturer, Bangor University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

Ghana’s cocoa farmers are trapped by the chocolate industry

The chocolate industry is worth more than $80 billion a year. But some cocoa farmers in parts of West Africa are poorer now than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. In other areas, artificial support for cocoa farming is creating a debt problem. Farmers are also still under pressure to supply markets in wealthy countries instead of securing their own future.

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons
Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

In research published last year I explored sustainability programmes designed to support cocoa farming in West Africa. My aim was to identify winners and losers.

I looked at initiatives such as CocoaAction, a $500 million “sustainability scheme” launched in 2014, and concluded that they were done in the interests of large multinationals. They did not necessarily relieve poverty or develop the region’s economies. In fact they created new problems.

To sustain their livelihoods, the cocoa farmers of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana need to diversify away from cocoa production. But multinational chocolate companies need farmers to keep producing cocoa.

Diversification

Farmers choose to diversify their crops for a host of reasons. These include a reduction in the resources they need to produce a crop (such as suitable land), and a reduction in the price they can get for the crop.

Cocoa farming requires tropical forestland. This is limited; it is not possible to keep expanding to new land to keep producing cocoa. So when the land is exhausted, farmers would benefit from diversifying to products like rubber and palm oil. They do not need to grow cocoa for its own sake.

A great deal of diversification occurred during the cocoa crisis of the 1970s in Ghana. Cereal output increased from 388,000 tonnes in 1964/1965 to over 1 million tonnes in 1983/83, and decreased when cocoa was “revitalised”. The same was the case with coconut, palm oil and groundnut.

But such diversification is more recently being prevented by multinationals and other stakeholders who want cocoa cultivation to continue. Multinationals that depend on cocoa as a raw material openly (and rightly) regard diversification as a risk to their business. So they keep spending on cocoa farming inputs.

Why there’s a limit to cocoa

In West Africa, cocoa has historically been cultivated using slash and burn farming. Forest was cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot became infertile, the farmer moved to fresh forestland and did the same again.

The new land offered fertile soil, a favourable microclimate and fewer pests and diseases. Growing the cocoa took less labour and yielded more.

This explains the link between cocoa farming and deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. A recent investigation showed that since 2000, Ivorian cocoa has been dependent on protected areas. Almost half of Mont Peko National Park, for example, which is home to endangered species, as well as Marahoue National Park has been lost to cocoa planting since 2000.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the area covered by forest decreased from 16 million hectares – roughly half of the country – in 1960 to less than 2 million hectares in 2005.

Forestland is finite. Slash and burn is no longer an option, because so much of the forest is gone. In West Africa, planters are now staying on the same piece of land and reworking it.

This has created its own set of problems.

Rising costs and threats

In both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, several estimates of the cost of maintaining a cocoa farm show that the investment costs required for replanting have approximately doubled. One estimate of labour investment put the replanting effort at 260 days per hectare, compared with 74 days per hectare for planting using slash and burn.

The extra labour needed for sedentary cultivation is leading to child trafficking and child labour in cocoa cultivation. Child trafficking generally occurs when planters are searching for cheaper sources of labour for replanting.

Planters who have successfully diversified into other crops have stopped using child labour. In the cocoa industry, however, the use of child labour is increasing. For example, the number of child labourers in the Ivorian cocoa industry increased by almost 400,000 between 2008 and 2013.

There has also been a massive increase in the use of fertilisers and pesticides to aid cocoa production without slash and burn.

The increased input (labour, fertilisers and pesticides) for replanting land amounts to a higher production cost. It cannot be adjusted by price setting. Cocoa producers have no control over price; they are price takers. So the higher production cost reduces the profit made by cocoa farmers.

This explains why cocoa producers in Côte d’Ivoire are poorer now  than they were decades ago.

In Ghana, the government, through the cocoa marketing board, COCOBOD, has managed the transition from slash and burn to sedentary farming. The government created a mass spraying programme to control diseases and pests. It also subsidised fertiliser and created a pricing policy that has sometimes amounted to a government subsidy this links need users to subscribe. Due to the extra free input provided by the government, sometimes supported by NGOs and multinational corporations, farmers have not become poorer in Ghana. But the approach has led to huge debt for COCOBOD. For example, COCOBOD incurred GHc2 billion (US$367 million) debt for subsidising the price of cocoa for the year 2017.

Although cocoa planters are faring well in Ghana, it is not clear that Ghana’s cocoa sector is really a success story. The shift to debt financing has artificially produced the success.

The way forward

Cocoa “sustainability” activities are not the way forward. Cocoa sustainability is a new form of colonisation in Africa, because its real goal is to prevent African planters from diversifying away from cocoa into other crops. These programmes keep the cocoa industry going under deteriorating conditions.

The way forward is to switch from cocoa to crops that do not require forestland (new or exhausted), extra fertilisers or more labour.

Research has shown that cocoa planters in Côte d’Ivoire who have diversified into other crops, such as rubber, have succeeded in escaping poverty.

But that is seen as a major threat to the supply of raw material to Western multinationals. One representative of a large chocolate multinational explained “my enemy is not my competitor in the purchase of cocoa, but the rubber industry.”

In conclusion, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have to think about what is best for them instead of what is best for the chocolate industry and consumers in the developed world.

Transport links, such as the Tanga-Horohoro road in north-east Tanzania, could make it easier to do business in Africa.

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