We often do not know where the food products we buy come from and how they get to us. We are not even sure if sustainable farming practices were followed to grow the food or keep the domestic animals, or even understand how much work has been done by the farmers to ensure we are fed all year round.
In today’s world, farmers are facing significant challenges. Climate change is resulting in changes in weather patterns, droughts and floods. Farmers are unable to predict when it’s going to rain thus making it difficult for them to plan for the planting season well. Floods and drought are resulting in the loss of domestic animals in huge numbers. Recently, there was a locust infestation in parts of East Africa which led to the loss of crop yield. In the past, pests and diseases have resulted in the loss of crop yield on the farm and also post-harvest during storage as well as the death of domestic animals. We cannot forget to mention the global coronavirus pandemic which continues to ravage the world to date. Every day seems like a battle for a farmer, especially for the small-scale farmer in Kenya.
According to the FAO (2006, 2008, 2009), Food and Nutrition security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Small-scale farmers aid in the access to produce at the household level within regional food systems. When COVID-19 first ravaged the world, lockdowns were implemented limiting the movement of farm produce. This affected small-scale farmers who depend on middlemen to have their products moved from the farm to the consumer. Major food markets across the country were also closed routinely to prevent the spread of the disease. For many, this led to food waste or selling their produce at a low price to get it off their hands. Hygiene standards of farm produce have also increased to enhance safety and prevent the spread of the disease as produce moved from one point to another crossing local and national borders and farmers have had to adapt post-harvest.
However, not all is lost. In an effort to consume healthy and nutritious food to build immunity against the virus, consumers are keen on purchasing healthy food from local markets and even neighbours. This has led to the appreciation of the small-scale farmer who is available at the regional level all year round.
According to Route to Food, Kenya’s agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming and is carried out on farms averaging 0.2–3ha, mostly on a subsistence basis. Small-scale farmers are the backbone of agriculture and food security. In an ever-growing economy, large-scale farming may be seen as a better long-term measure to enhance food and nutrition security. However, doing this would mean the loss of indigenous knowledge, sources of income, a diversity of produce and ease of access and availability which is held by the majority of small-scale farmers.