The increase in the number of farmers opting to subsidise their incomes through engaging in other money venturing activities, is putting a risk on the country’s food security.

Policy makers are now calling to East Africa governments to remedy the negative effects by instituting policies that encourage farmers to participate in agriculture production even while engaging in other activities. This will be for example policies that fosters processing and commercialization of agriculture produce at the local area which will give farmers incentives not to abandon or sell off their farms.

This is according to a research recently published by the Partnership for Economic Research (PEP) carried out to initiate policy dialogue on the trade-offs that accrue as a result of reduced farm activities by farmers especially in areas considered high agriculture productive areas.

 “We are seeing the trend where more people are opting to be example boda boda riders or market traders instead of putting their labour into farming.”

And what they earn from this ‘off-farm’ activities, they put into family consumption like buying clothes, food, education and better health and hardly invest in their farms. What we have found is that this results to lower agriculture productivity and therefore less food at the community and ultimately the Country level,” says Dr Laura Barasa, the lead researcher, and economist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics.

The research published in February 2019, is titled “How integrating pro-agriculture and pro-welfare policies can enhance farmer’s production and welfare in Uganda and Tanzania,” used secondary data from the Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), from Tanzania (2008-2012), and Uganda (2009-2011).  These research is also applicable to the Kenyan context.

Other researchers on the study were Bethuel Kinyanjui, Stephene Maende and Faith Mariera all from the University of Nairobi.

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The stakeholders gathered in Nairobi to discuss the research findings, want East African governments to increase budgetary allocations to Agriculture from below 5 percent in Kenya, below 4 percent in Uganda and a partly 0.85 percent in Tanzania.

“We should think of Agriculture and Manufacturing as complementing and not as competing entities. They are co-dependent and one should not be favoured over the other. We need to encourage farmers to continue with production through subsidies for farming inputs e.g. seeds, fertilizer, value addition, commercializing of agricultural output and cash transfer programs,” says Dr Barasa.

This public under investment in agriculture, and the sector’s importance to economic growth and poverty alleviation, particularly in Africa, was acknowledged in the African Union’s Maputo Declaration of 2003, under which signatory nations including Kenya committed to allocate 10 per cent of government expenditures to agriculture and rural development.

This was emphasized at the Malabo Declaration of 2014, in which signatory nations re-committed to the 10 per cent goal. Even so, only four countries led by Malawi at 15.8 per cent have reached this threshold.

Findings from the recent research show that farmers are moving away from investing in their farms as they look to supplement their incomes and improve their family lifestyles. Climatic changes, low credit access and marketing challenges have resulted to agriculture being shunned as it is seen as a high-risk with low returns venture.

About 20 percent of households engage in off-farm activities (mining, government jobs eg teachers, manufacturing, transport, trade, agro-processing, retail trading etc).

Compared to on-farm households, the total value of agricultural harvest for households participating in off-farm activities is about 83 percent lower for Tanzania and 29 percent lower for Uganda. In contrast, consumption expenditure for households participating in off-farm activities is about 26 percent greater than for households engaging in on-farm activity for Tanzania only.

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These effects are considered negative to food security.

“The future of smallholder farming in Kenya lies in the measures taken to stimulate rural non-farm economy.  There is need to provide jobs for those exiting farming to minimize rural-urban migration; provide favorable rural investment climate to stop arable land being sold-off for real estate; and provision of public goods and institutional development,” says Joseph Opiyo, a Senior research assistant and Agriculture Economist at Egerton University, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural policy and development.

The institute recently released a study titled, ‘How off-farm work and fertilizer intensification improves production outcomes among smallholder farmers in Kenya.’ The research looked at Tea, Maize and vegetables farmer’s likelihood to use fertilizer when actively engaged in farming or when working elsewhere to supplement their income.

The research concluded that maize farmers are likely to engage in non-farm activities and use less fertilizer in their crops therefore reducing their earnings in the farm.

“Non-farm work has put pressure on the availability of farm labour. If we are to be food sufficient we should start reversing this now. We need to recognize that both are important and look for ways to make both lucrative, “says Opiyo.

 This discussion is especially critical as Kenya pushes towards the Big Four Agenda with a push towards manufacturing and food security. Tanzania and Uganda too have recently implemented policies that promote off-farm employment as a path to growth. The East African Community (EAC) has also been keen on formulating harmonized policies aimed at increasing productivity and farmers’ incomes.

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The research was sponsored by Partnerships for Economic Policy (PEP)- http://www.pep-net.org, through funding from Department of International Development (DFiD), UKAid and International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

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