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Smallholder farmers in Africa face challenges in getting reliable access to sufficient quantities of quality seed of superior varieties at the right time and at affordable prices, and this affects their agricultural productivity, incomes and resilience. The seed sector suffers from poorly functioning external seed quality assurance mechanism and certification services that are mostly centralized and publicly-run, often complicated by the rampant cases of fake/counterfeit seed. In addition, poor and inadequate financing of seed businesses hamper the development of seed sector in Africa since most seed entrepreneurs still rely on own-savings to finance their businesses due to lack of collaterals. Also, farmer-based seed systems in many African countries are poorly recognized and supported in the current seed laws, perhaps as a result of a general bias towards major market crops in the existing legal frameworks and poor participation of smallholder farmer representatives in the law development and implementation. These challenges must be addressed in order to transform the African seed sector and avail quality and affordable seed of superior quality of preferred varieties to smallholder farmers.

Since September 2014, the Program on Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa (ISSD Africa) has engaged in action learning research and network development towards the collaborative identification and analysis of complex and potential solutions that are of strategic importance at the national level, but need to be tackled at the continental and regional level. At a recently concluded conference in Nairobi, seed experts and key stakeholders from across Africa met to discuss the various challenges affecting smallholder seed sector development in Africa. The two-day conference, whose theme was “Breakthroughs for a vibrant seed sector in Africa”, was used to share findings of the two-year action learning projects with a view to translating these into change agenda. The conference also was meant to strengthen the ISSD Africa learning and innovation platform. Key topics discussed at the conference included: effective mechanisms for quality control, finance options for seed business, making business out of low-profit seed, and seed laws that promote an integrated seed sector. Other topics included variety information for seed producers, agreements for access to public varieties, support to Africa Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) and the African Seed and Biotechnology Program (ASBP).

While there is no systematic methods of quality assurance in the informal seed systems, external quality assurance mechanisms also function poorly and certification services are mostly centralized and publicly run. There is need therefore to build stronger internal and external mechanisms for seed quality control, and support a review of certification systems. In addition, flexible and innovative options are needed to cater for seed entrepreneurs operating in diverse systems, including value chain financing, grants, contracts and loan guarantees. To promote seed policies and laws that also include legal space and support for farmer-seed systems, there is need for awareness creation on the importance, roles, and needs of smallholder farmers, including stronger representations of smallholder farmers in seed law development and reviews. Also, while progress has been made in variety development and release, access to varieties in the public domain still remain a challenge. Novel mechanisms are needed to get information on new publicly-released and public sector-managed (i.e., local varieties in gene banks) varieties to farmers and at scale. In addition, improved access to foundation seed is crucial for an effective seed value chin development.

In many African countries, there is very limited coordinated action to ensure that seed sector development activities align with the stated CAADP and ASBP commitments. Whereas there is increased policy interest and commitment at national level to develop a more pluralistic and integrated seed sector, the policy support and investment still favors the formal seed systems. Improved implementation of seed sector development priorities in the Africa Union’s CAADP-ASBP agenda and aligning these with National Agricultural and Food Security Investment Plans (NAFSIPs) can contribute to more strategic and coordinated interventions at national level, thus enhancing improved access to quality seed for farmers.

ISSD Africa program supports the development of a market-oriented, pluralistic and vibrant seed sector development in Africa that can provide smallholder farmers with access to quality seed of superior varieties. The program is guided by four themes: promoting seed entrepreneurship, increasing access to varieties in the public domain, matching global commitments with national realities, and supporting the Africa Union Commission (AUC) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), the African Seed and Biotechnology Program and the seed sector development. Activities have been carried out in 10 African countries: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The ISSD Africa Secretariat is hosted at Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Egerton University.

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Pastoralist societies around the world are currently facing more pressures on their land than ever before. Contributing to the land pressure, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is the stance taken by policy makers who are pursuing policies that have sought to transform pastoralism into sedentary and intensified production systems. Simply put, stop the migratory and extensive nature of livestock production, which require large sizes of land. In Kenya, after devolution, the demand for individualization and privatization on community land has increased as people seek to speculate in land markets and make huge returns by betting on the expanding urbanization that is expected to follow devolution and development of mega projects, some of which are part of the Kenya vision 2030 projects. However, it is important to note that most of the pastoralist areas, change in use of land from extensive livestock production to other uses in very expensive. Second, pastoralist communities now face pressure from increasing population and climate variability. As a result, land available for pastoralists who have maintained the large herds of animal herds has been declining. Similarly, the fragmentation of land in pastoral areas has complicated sustainable use of resources in these areas. For example, in pastoral communities in the country result to violent conflict, many times fatal, due to completion for diminishing resources. The fights involve pastoral communities fighting among themselves or with other groups such as farmers.

A growing body of research now shows that communities are efficient in use of land making most of scarce resources found in pastoral areas. They achieve this by adapting their productive activities to the high climate variability and uncertainty of pastoral areas. This makes their production systems to not only be the most suited but also the most sustainable compared to alternative uses. This make the understanding of how these communities manage their land and utilize land to be critical especially to policy makers who seek to enact policies that has far reaching effect on their livelihoods as well as the sustainability of the ecological environment.

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Maize is the key staple food for the Kenyan population providing about 65% of staple calorie intake. Majority of the population both rural and urban populations and across income groups consider maize and maize meal as important items in their household food basket. Kenya produces enough maize to feed the population based on estimated per capita consumption but when other uses like seed, feed and manufacturing are considered the supply falls slightly short of demand. This shortfall is usually supplied by imports from both the East African Community and COMESA. In times of severe deficit the country waivers import duty to allow maize form the ROW. Several sources indicate that rice is becoming an important staple. This is attributed to changing lifestyles and growth of the middle income population. The national rice development strategy had projected that by 2016/17 the demand for rice will be about 350,000 MT. Available sources including government records show that demand has overshot that projection by almost 50 percent to 550,000 MT. The cost of production of maize and rice production has direct implications on national supply, access for consumption and household incomes. Additionally being members of both EAC and COMESA free trade area (FTA) requires that our farmers produce efficiently to be competitive regionally. It is in this context that Tegemeo Institute carries out annual cost of production assessments to continuously monitor trends and driving factors so as to inform policy on necessary interventions to reduce the cost of production. 

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The dominance of maize as the major staple food is on a downward trend with the rural households consuming straight-run posho declining to 78 percent in 2015 from 86 percent recorded in 2013. The average weekly consumption of Straight-run posho per household declined to 6.9 Kg in 2015 from 7.9 Kg in 2013. This decline is consistent with the fall in the national per capita maize consumption which was 83 Kg in 2009 and is currently estimated to be 55 – 78 Kg. Major consumption decline is observed among households in the High and Medium potential zones, traditionally known to be the main producers of maize; its flour a key feature in meals such as ugali. Though increasing in prominence in the rural areas, Sifted maize flour is consumed by only 26 percent of the rural households, recording an 11 percentage point increase from that recorded in 2013. Wheat, the second most important staple food in Kenya shows mixed consumption patterns. Even though the proportion of households consuming wheat flour declined from 40 to 38 percent between 2013 and 2015, the quantities consumed per household per week remained relatively constant at 1.8 Kg. The decline in the proportion of households consuming wheat flour is mainly observed among high income households while the proportion of low and middle income households consuming wheat largely remaining constant between 2013 and 2015. 

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Zoning of blended fertilizer coupled with improved management of the distribution system involving the private sector can increase access to subsidized fertilizer by resource poor farmers in Kenya. The use of fertilizer is generally expected to increase crop productivity among cereal growing farmers. Majority of the small holder farmers who produce about 64% of maize in Kenya are resource poor. Land which is their main factor of production is suffering from declining soil health due to continuous use in maize and wheat production. To ameliorate this situation, the government has introduced a fertilizer subsidy program in an effort to enhance food security through increased cereal production and productivity in Kenya. Fertilizer accounts for about 30% of the cost of production and has the potential to increase yields by 50%-75%. In order to increase access at a lower cost, the government has been supplying subsidized fertilizer to motivate its use. However, the approach used in supplying the fertilizer has not been effective in reaching needy farmers who do not have access to the input. This has raised concerns whether the national subsidy programs achieve the intended purpose. Fertilizer use or the lack thereof by Kenyan farmers is an issue that has received varied attention from practitioners in the agricultural sector. The program intended to encourage fertilizer use, support local fertilizer manufacturers and strengthen fertilizer distribution. The private sector imports about 600,000 tonnes of fertilizer annually and can only sell if the government imports of about 500,000 tonnes delays. While the government alone can meet the annual national fertilizer demand, its resource base is limited, therefore, the need for private sector involvement. Its partnership with the Toyota Tsusho company will further reduce the cost of fertilizer by 40%. Supplying the right fertilizer will be incumbent on the firm producing the appropriate fertilizer for specific soils. The expansion of the subsidy program to cover other crops such as tea, coffee and sugarcane will impact negatively on the private sector’s share in the fertilizer market. The significant reduction of their returns due to decreasing sales margins will drive out from the fertilizer market those actors who cannot breakeven.

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A recent assessment by the World Bank found that by 2030, serving the food demands of Africa’s growing middle class alone will create a market worth $1 trillion (Sh 103 trillion). African “agri-preneurs” can own that market if we tap the two assets that should be an unbeatable combination: the world’s largest population of young people, and the world’s largest holdings of uncultivated arable land. In fact, Tegemeo Institute has conducted a study that has found access to land could dramatically increase youth participation in agriculture, particularly for young women farmers. There are about 1 million youths entering the labour market annually. They can contribute to significant food security in Kenya if they are gainfully employed in agriculture where increasing population, low agricultural productivity and decreasing arable land in the high and medium potential areas are a threat to food security. Their participation in agriculture has however been constrained by limited access to land in the rural areas. Unlike the rural areas, innovative urban farming takes place even on 0.25 acres of land. This allows rearing of poultry, rabbits and having green houses in urban areas where land is scarce. Such innovative approaches can involve the youths more especially where land is scarce. Involvement of the young people in farming requires development of a positive attitude towards agriculture. This will help reduce unemployment among the youths because political and social consequences of unemployed youths can be extensive as witnessed by political unrest globally. This would involve equipping youthful agri-preneurs with relevant skills to build a sustainable and resilient agricultural innovation system that will respond to unique challenges within their counties. Such skills coupled with access to land enable the youths to participate actively in farming.

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Dairy is an important industry in Kenya contributing about 14% of the agriculture GDP and 4% of the National GDP. It supports more than one million smallholders and plays a critical role in food and nutrition security through milk consumption and increased household incomes. The sector is regarded as a success case in Kenya due to the following factors: First, the sector supports a large proportion of small holders since about 80% of milk is produced by smallholders. Secondly, it is commercially-oriented creating employment both in the formal and informal milk chains through linkages; and finally, it has potential for more growth both domestically and regionally due to the high milk consumption levels in Kenya and unmet demand in the region. Thus, the sub-sector has the potential of playing an important role in improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. However, realization of the sector’s potential has continuously been faced by many challenges as documented in several papers and reports. Some identified farm-level challenges include high cost of production, declining land sizes, consumer concerns about milk quality and safety, lack of good quality animal breeds, and poor husbandry and farming practices, among others. 

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A large majority of the communities living in the land under communal land tenure have used customary laws to manage and utilise the land. Under customary law, communities had established well respected boundaries and did not possess formal titles to land. Formalisation process, which started under colonial rule, introduced the title deed as a formal document recognised under law that sufficed as proof of ownership over land.

From the colonial period, successive government administrations have promoted privatisation on land tenure in areas under communal land tenure. Individuals or group of individuals (in the case of group ranches) were issued with a title deed that guaranteed formal land rights over against such lands. The rest of the land under communal land tenure was classified as trust lands. Under the old constitutional dispensation, these lands were under the local government, while in the new constitutional dispensation are under the National Lands Commission and County Governments.

However, communal lands under trust face the most serious threat in guaranteeing land tenure security. Since 1960s, the trusteeship by local governments had always been abused. For instance, local leaders and politicians and individuals who were well connected with the local elite were able to alienate land and formalise by way of acquiring title deeds in areas under communal land tenure, a fact well documented in the Ndungu Report of 2004. Further, communities were never involved in decision making when plans, both development and land use plans were made. This only served to increase land tenure insecurity with the community fearing displacement every time a project on their land is mooted.

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In Kenya, 67% of the total land is under communal land tenure, and supports about a quarter of the country’s population (10 million persons) and 70% of the livestock population. A large majority of these lands are characterised by arid and semi-arid conditions such as high temperatures and low rainfall. As such they have been inhabited by pastoral communities who practise extensive livestock production systems that are well-suited to these conditions. These communities have used communal land tenure to manage the lands. Communal land tenure systems not only facilitate this type of livestock keeping but also play a key role in determining the social, economic and political status of pastoral communities.

From the colonial period, pastoralism has been misunderstood by the authorities. The colonial government implemented land policies such as the East African Royal Commission 1953-1955 and the Swynnerton Plan of 1954, which advocated for individualisation and privatisation of land tenure. They viewed pastoralism as retrogressive, inefficient, and did not lead to investment in land. Instead private land tenure was seen as the best form of promoting investment in land and improving productivity. They argued that private and individual tenure was a key step towards improving environmental conservation, reducing herd size and improving livestock breeds, thereby improving productivity and livelihoods.

The post-independence government maintained these policies and further, the Lawrence Report of 1966 recommended privatisation of land tenure in pastoral areas. With support from donors, the government in the 1960s and 1970s established group ranches starting in the now Kajiado County, before spreading out to other Maasai lands i.e. Narok and Laikipia Counties and further to other pastoral communities. Although the formation of group ranches was inconsistent with the pastoral communities cultural norms of land ownership and access, for example, the Maasai believed that land was a birth right accessible to all, they did not oppose the formation of group ranches mainly because they wanted to protect their ancestral land from “outsiders” and the government also provided additional incentives such as provision of water and disease control. Despite the establishment of group ranches, the communities used customary laws to manage the land. For example, the elders became leaders of the ranches and communities maintained cultural access norms with no restriction on use of land. On the other hand, land that was not adjudicated was held in trust by local governments on behalf of the communities in those locales.

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Kenya is one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to experience an impressive rise in fertilizer use following a series of input market reforms in the early 1990s. Two major consequences of these reforms were declining fertilizer marketing margins and distances between farmers and fertilizer dealers. We quantify the effects of these changes on commercial fertilizer use and maize production in Kenya by estimating fertilizer demand and maize supply response functions using nationwide household survey data. Our results indicate that between 1997 and 2010, the estimated 27% reduction in real fertilizer prices that can be attributed to falling marketing margins associated with market reforms led to a 36% increase in nitrogen use on maize fields and a 9% increase in maize production resulting from both yield and acreage effects. On the other hand, decreasing distances to fertilizer retailers from the perspective of a given household did not appear to raise fertilizer use or maize supply, although a comparison across households using average distances over the panel indicate that those closer to retailers do apply more fertilizer on their maize fields.

See Working Paper here ...


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Policy makers and development experts believe that irrigation is the panacea to frequent drought related crop failure and to meet the demand for cheap and stable food supply in Kenya. The country has experienced heavy crop losses associated with drought in the years 1980, 1984, 2000, 2008, 2009, and 2011(WFP, 2011). Since 2009, the government set out to reduce reliance on rain-fed production by investing KES12.5 billion into rehabilitation of irrigation schemes in the country. This report reviews existing literature on irrigation in the World and provides views by experts on the potential for irrigation and its major challenges. The review considers policy on irrigation and the past investments to elicit lessons which could inform research for new policy on irrigation in Kenya. The findings show that local experience with irrigation development in most public irrigation schemes is bad. The UN advises caution on large-scale irrigation in pastoral areas which could cause significant environmental degradation and low economic returns despite heavy subsidies, while undermining the pastoral economy. Avery (2013) argues that irrigation in semi-arid areas will be challenged by high solar radiation and temperatures, and dry winds that desiccate soils and crops. Experts have raised many questions in literature reviewed which include; what is the nutritional quality of irrigated crops not have been bred in semi-arid areas? How are local markets (supply and demand) going to be affected by the increase in supply of maize? What criteria will the government use to allocate water? What will be the impact of irrigation on the river ecology (hydrology, onsite soils, water tables, water logging, salinization, sodication, nitration, wildlife, micro-organisms, pests and diseases, genetic diversity, etc)? What will be the social and political impact of an influx of workers from other ethnic groups into the regions being developed for irrigation? What is the ex-ante economic surplus of the project? What is the opportunity cost of maize irrigation compared to alternative livelihoods like pastoralism? What is the policy on land and water use rights for investors, stakeholders and minority ethnic groups especially the Watta, Orma and Giriama living in Galana/Kulalu? What will be the effect of large-scale irrigated maize production on the market considering its potential effect on maize producing regions in Western Kenya?

See the Policy Brief here ...


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