For decades, developing countries have depended on foreign aid to carry out their development programmes. Initially, they used this aid to fund physical infrastructure to spur economic growth, but later extended it to fund recurrent expenditure such as paying salaries for government employees and maintaining existing operations. Foreign aid “dependency” has, therefore, taken root in many developing countries and made it impossible for them to function without external assistance in terms of finances and expertise. For example, Kenya, being one of the developing countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, has been receiving aid since it attained independence from Britain in 1963.
In recent times, however, the Kenyan Government with the support of the donor community has embarked on some ambitious strategies to support the agriculture sector as an engine for economic growth and poverty reduction (especially in rural areas) by promoting commercialisation’s benefits to smallholder farmers. In particular, the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme (NALEP) initiative, implemented in the country since 2000, has the short-term objective to move away from handouts given to smallholder farmers as a way of reducing their dependency levels on handouts, and to encourage them to develop from subsistence to commercially oriented farming. The long-term objective is to empower farmers by providing them with the tools and knowledge to explore new and sophisticated markets for their produce.
With this in mind, this study asks: is it possible to develop a framework that reflects the dynamics of commercialisation taking place in a region by providing key elements driving the potential of smallholder vegetable farmers in Kenya’s Kiambu West District to explore new markets?
This study initially examined how smallholder farmers in Kenya’s Kiambu West District, who were already participating in two vegetable agrifood chains (kale and coriander), sold their produce to markets, to which markets they sold them, and what affected their market accessibility. The results from this study led to an examination of the key determinants that affected smallholder farmers’ ability to explore new and sophisticated markets for their produce.
The study’s key findings are:
(1) While kale and coriander were high-value horticultural crops, smallholder farmers did not often sell their produce at anything other than the local market and, in the main, were not commercially orientated. In fact, many had only small land sizes (less than 0.5acres), which made it difficult for them to grow commercial quantities. Additionally, there were inadequate infrastructural services such as cooled transportation and storage facilities that the farmers needed to develop the economies of scale necessary for them to expand into new and more sophisticated markets.
(2) It is possible to develop a robust and evidence-based framework to examine the key determinants that affected smallholder farmers’ ability to explore new and sophisticated markets for their produce. Such a framework was created with components that are important, with a set of key determinants developed for use in other studies of commercialisation in subsistence based societies.
(3) The study has enabled a number of recommendations to be made regarding policy development to aid smallholder farmers’ commercialisation.