Feature: East African farmers abandon farms for other trades, threat to food security

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-12 22:27:53|Editor: Xiaoxia
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NAIROBI, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- On his one-acre farm in Busia, western Kenya, John Ojiambo grows a variety of crops that include maize, pumpkins and beans and further keeps goats.

He has been doing it for years, with farming being one of the major sources of income for his family.

Early last year, however, Ojiambo diversified to motorbike taxi business after acquiring a loan through a micro-finance organization.

"My pumpkins and maize did not do very well last season yet they are the crops that have been giving me money for years," said the farmer on Tuesday.

"This is one of the reasons I saw the need to diversify my income by going into the transport business. On a good day, I get up to 1,000 shillings (10 U.S. dollars) from the business," he added.

While the engaging in off-farm activities is putting money into farmers' pockets, experts noted that it is becoming a threat to food security.

This is because the alternative income-generating activities end up pulling the farmers away from the farms, a trend that is being witnessed in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Motorbike taxis, which is commonly known as boda boda in East Africa, market trading and shop keeping are the three most popular off-farm activities for farmers across the region, according to Laura Barasa, an economist lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

"The number of farmers opting to increase their incomes by engaging in other money-making activities across East Africa has risen significantly and this is putting many countries' food security at risk," said Barasa.

The economist noted that while engaging in boda boda or market trading instead of putting all their efforts on to the farm is welcome, what most farmers earn from the off-farm activities is rarely invested into the farm.

"The money goes into family consumption like buying clothes, food, education and better health and is hardly invested on the farms. These results to lower agriculture productivity and, therefore, less food at the community and ultimately the country level," said Barasa.

A study conducted by the economist and other researchers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in January indicates that most affected areas are highly agriculture productive.

The research documented a systematic shift of farmers away from investing in their farms as they seek to supplement their incomes and improve their family lifestyles.

The researchers cited climatic changes, low credit access and marketing challenges as the reasons that have made agriculture being shunned as it is seen as high-risk with low returns venture.

Joseph Opiyo, a senior researcher at Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development under Egerton University, urged East African governments to remedy the situation by instituting policies that encourage complementarity of both farm and non-farm sectors of the economy in the rural areas.

Opiyo noted that the future of smallholder farming across East Africa lies in the measures taken to stimulate rural non-farm economy.

He recommended that policies that promote establishment of agro-processing hubs and commercialization of agriculture should be put in place to ensure that farm households continue to produce raw materials for the processors in those regions, whereas those exiting farming have employment opportunities in the processing plants thus continue drawing livelihoods out of the farm.

He reiterated the need to provide favorable rural investment climate such as provisions of public goods and services to attract private sector players to invest in rural areas.

"However, this is not possible if budgetary allocation to agriculture sector in most East African countries continue to be lower than the bare minimum (10 percent) as recommended at the Malabo Declaration, which several African nations committed to," he said.