• Agriculture remains a focus area that can advance economic development for the African nations through better productivity in farms and greater earnings for farmers.

    In the past two decades, there has been rapid economic growth and increased agricultural productivity which has seen the proportion of undernourished people drop by almost half.

    The United Nations Development Program, notes that many “developing countries that used to suffer from famine and hunger can now meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable.” This progress can be attributed to the Millennium Development Goals.

    Despite these achievements, UNDP estimates that 795 million people are still malnourished as of 2014 due to “direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity.”

    Further, over 90 million children under the age of 5 are awfully underweight. And one person in every four still goes hungry in Africa.

    Thus, there is a need to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. The goal will be achieved through making sure all people – especially children and the more vulnerable – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round.

    To do that, individuals, organizations and nations have to promote sustainable agricultural practices: improving the livelihoods and capacities of small-scale farmers, allowing equal access to land, technology and markets. Additionally, it requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

    The Sorghum Pioneer Agencies (SPA), is working with local farmers in Kenya to ensure that they find a sustainable market, access tools, technologies and services they need to produce enough to feed their families and surplus for markets. The sales result to increased incomes at the household level, making it easier to purchase nutritious foods that they don’t grow.

    According to Beatrice Nkatha, the owner of SPA, limited access to and low affordability of improved crop technologies that are adapted to the different areas, inadequate skills and knowledge on how to improve production are some of the key obstacles that currently limit the potential to increase productivity and incomes.

    She also noted that limited access to the market (household, local, regional, national or even trans-boundary) and information on required produce quality, quantity and timing also affect productivity.

    Working with over 10,000 farmers in Meru- Eastern region of Kenya- SPA provides farmers with almost all the factors of production including ploughing services, linking farmers with financiers for farming loans, index-based insurance, training farmers on agronomic practices and post-harvest handling.

    The farmers who grow different sorghum varieties for brewing, feeds, and human consumption are able to get more value for their produce by consolidating their produce through Nkatha’s business. SPA enables farmers to source for better markets which in turn brings about better incomes.

    The inspiration behind Sorghum business

    Nkatha lost her father at an early age and dropped out of school in class eight before sitting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education.

    Later, she worked for businesswomen selling horticulture produce and cereals in Meru, Embu and Nairobi for a pay of Sh30 ($0.3) a day. The little pay did not discourage her. She carried small luggage, watched over their (employees) goods in the market or during transit.

    “I learnt to be alert, memorize details and be honest,” she told Daily Nation recounting that she would also be tasked to carry huge sums of money since no one would suspect her.

    Working for her employees aroused her business interests as she witnessed how they made profits. She saw one of her employer buy sorghum from locals and sell at the market four times more than she had bought.

    She swore to engage in the same business but offer farmers better prices. Thus, begun her dream.

    She rented farms and started planting sorghum and taking her produce direct to the market. Soon her neighbours noticed she was making much more from the sorghum and that she offered better prices. They started selling to her. SPA was born.

    Through IFAD-funded Sorghum of Multiple Use (SMU) project and partnerships with Africa harvest, SPA has grown into a successful business to be emulated by many in Kenya and across Africa.

    Being a farmer herself, Nkatha says has helped her know the dynamics experienced by farmers. Her position as a farmer has also played a major role in mobilising other farmers to adopt sorghum farming.

    With such experiences, Nkatha has been able to provide to the needs of the farmers effectively and efficiently.

    Once an errand girl, Nkatha is now and award-winning businesswoman. She has won several awards, one in 2012 and another in 2014 as the most improved agent while the Ministry of Agriculture recognized her role in contributing to food security and poverty reduction.

    One notable achievement by SPA is the delivery of 10,000 MT of sorghum grain valued at $3.3 million to one of the sorghum-based product processors in the country in 2013. The company also owns two tractors, a thresher and a ripper which provide services to the smallholder farmers.

    “Our business bulks and sells grain to international organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP). We also supply sorghum to large, private sector malting companies as well as human and animal feed processors,” Nkatha said.

    The businesswoman calls on governments to implement laws that support the development of agriculture and reduce taxes that curtail efforts of farmers and entrepreneurs.

    “The government should also consider subsidies for smallholder farmers in the form of seeds, affordable fertilizers, mechanised farm implements as well as the use of the produce in government initiatives e.g. school feeding programs.”

    Development of infrastructures like roads and water facilities will improve production and ensure that farm produce move freely from points of surplus production to areas with deficits at affordable costs.

    With farmers like Nkatha taking the initiative to provide input to smallholder farmers as well as buy produces from them at great prices, agriculture is set to improve in Africa. With better prices smallholder farmers can meet their needs easily and grow their families, and consequently their localities. This, in turn, transforms the villages into towns and the whole nation at large.

    Image credit: oneacrefund.org