One of the main messages from the conference was how farmers moving into non-agricultural activities is putting food security at risk in East Africa.
“We are seeing a trend where more people are opting to be boda boda [motorcycle taxi] riders or market traders, instead of putting their efforts into farming,” said Dr Laura Barasa, the leader of the PEP research team.
In presenting the findings from their PEP study on Off-farm participation, agricultural production and farmers’ welfare in Tanzania and Uganda, selected under the PAGE II initiative in 2017, the research team shed light on a vicious cycle that is reducing agricultural production and threatening food security.
Factors such as climate change and lack of credit access push smallholder farmers to seek non-agricultural, or “off-farm” work. Dr Barasa explained that while the time spent in off-farm activities reduces the labour supply for agricultural production, “the money earnt from off-farm work is used to meet family needs like buying clothes and food. They hardly invest in their farms.”
Dr Barasa called for policies that will provide farmers with incentives to not abandon or sell their farms. “We need to encourage farmers to continue with production through subsidies – for seeds, fertiliser – and cash transfer programs,” she said. Find out more about the team’s research methods, findings, and policy recommendations in PEP Policy Brief 187.
The event attracted around 30 stakeholders, including direct policy advisors, academics, and journalists from both the national and farming-specific media.
Charles Kahuthu, a policy advisor and the Chief Executive Officer of the East African Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture remarked that the team’s findings are especially relevant to the food security pillar of the Kenyan Government’s Big Four Agenda. “The revelation that off-farm activities diminish agricultural production has come at the right time in the wake of food insecurity in the country,” he said.
Nancy Laibuni, Policy Analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis said that the team’s findings call “for policies to complement the [farm and off-farm] sectors” as “existing agricultural policies are not supportive of the sector.” Peter Mokaya of the Agricultural Industry Network agreed that reforms in the agricultural sector are due.
The event was widely reported in the media, including a video report by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, available to watch on YouTube.
The research team organized the event with support from PEP and in collaboration with the University of Nairobi and the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development. It was hosted at the Nairobi Safari Club.