Delivering innovative solutions to smallholder farmers is at the heart of what we do. We spoke to some of the farmers working with a selection of our partners as well as some of the partners themselves to hear their stories and find out more about how they have been faring. Here is a collection of their stories.
Download the Farmers of AgriFin Booklet
80% of the population in lower-income countries rely on food grown by smallholder farmers. In Kenya, agriculture is the backbone of the economy. However, many smallholder farmers struggle to maintain a viable livelihood through farming. Their fragile way of life is being threatened at an alarming rate as climate change drives more unpredictable and frequent weather shocks.
Many smallholder farmers in Kenya depend on rainfall to grow crops to provide for their families, often supplementing that with any other income sources they can piece together, including small scale retail and day labor. It’s a lifestyle in which most are earning just enough to get by. Opportunities to get ahead — save, invest, expand — are limited or non-existent, exacerbated by weather patterns that can no longer depend on producing seasonal food and income. When rain is scarce and harvests fail, farmers have to look for other sources of income, and in the most desperate situations, sell off their assets.
The weather is, however, not the only barrier to success. Farmers in rural communities lack access to financial products and resources to improve farming techniques. Instead, they rely on advice from neighbors and family. Additionally, local suppliers frequently sell counterfeit inputs, like seeds, which are low-quality and underperforming. Other vital inputs, like fertilizers, medicine and pesticides, are often too expensive or unavailable.
The pandemic has drawn attention to many countries’ complex fragility, highlighted most clearly in the interplay of public health, markets and food systems. In Kenya, where strategic reserves are low, disrupted food systems, logistics, and evidence of food hoarding and the largest desert locust invasion in 70 years put Kenyan farmers under increasing pressure.
At Mercy Corps AgriFin, we are addressing these barriers to farmers’ success using innovative market-based approaches. By collaborating with a portfolio of innovative partners we have been able to provide bundled services to improve farmers’ access to inputs, markets and finance. Using digital platforms we have been able to streamline their farming activities, bolster the agricultural knowledge base and increase their resilience to climate shocks.
We recently reached out to them to gain a better understanding of the services offered by our technical partners. We are proud of the strides that our farmer-clients have made and would like to share their journeys in this pamphlet. It has been re-affirming to see the positive changes in their lives as well as their families and communities.
Areas of Focus
- Women, Youth, Rural Employment: Women farmers such as Norah, Rose and Mercy are transforming their lives as well as the lives of their families and larger communities. By working as field agents with Africa Instore Solutions (AIS) and the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), they are earning incomes, educating fellow farmers and shortening value chains. Moreover, these women are challenging social norms and taking up leadership roles in their communities showing results. Rose serves as a Farmer Service Centre (FSC) with FtMA. She links farmers to markets by helping them aggregate and sell their produce whilst also providing practical training for other farmers like Mercy.
- Climate Change: Climate change is difficult to bypass and farmers like Brian have recognized the importance of not relying on rain-fed agriculture. Climate smart solutions like Sunculture’s solar-powered smart irrigation system have enabled him to significantly reduce the time spent fetching water so that he can focus on other farming activities, diversify his production, and grow his income
- Continuous Learning: Digital tools are disseminating information to farmers in ways that they can easily understand and reinforce their knowledge by building online communities. Stephen learned about the iShamba WhatsApp group from the long-running TV show, Shamba Shape-Up. He has implemented his new knowledge and is staying connected to other farmers during the COVID 19 pandemic. Similarly, James’ zest for learning led him to discover Arifu’s SMS-based learning platform and grow his skills. He has reduced his dependence on rainfall and sunk a borehole to water his cabbages, a new crop he learned about on the platform.
- Digital Platforms and Last-Mile Access: Hello Tractor is addressing farmers’ logistical challenges and Benson is one of the smallholder farmers reaping the benefits of digital mechanization. Before using the Hello Tractor Platform he found it difficult to measure how much he and his employees ploughed in a day. The app allows him to track and monitor his tractor when in use, optimise its route, and keep on top of his growing fleet.
A Word From Two Technical Partners
We also spoke to two of our longest-serving partners, Mediae Production Company and Safaricom’s Digifarm. We are proud of their growth and evolution. Their adoption of digital tools and platforms has bolstered the support they offer to rural people at the core of their business models.
For close to 20 years, Mediae Production Company has been a source of edutainment for Kenyan youth and smallholders. Since 2016, Mediae has been partnering with AgriFin to improve farmer capability with various initiatives. We co-produced the reality TV show, Don’t Lose the Plot, where 4 youth from Kenya and Tanzania were challenged to increase their yield on their plot of land in a sustainable way to win USD 10,000. The show garnered over 4 Million views. Their long-running TV series, Shamba Shape-up which airs in English and Swahili has been providing farmers with practical knowledge by including partners from across the sector. They now have the iShamba Whatsapp plans that farmers like Stephen can access for free or at a premium for more targeted information.
Mediae has also been instrumental in AgriFin’s emergency response with the dissemination of information on COVID19 and desert locusts using a combination of digital tools including IVR, Whatsapp and SMS Through their programming and use of digital tools, they have been able to reach over 7+ Million viewers and make agricultural topics as well as agribusiness accessible to smallholder farmers including youth. According to Shamba Shape-Up Series Producer, Sophie Rottman, it seems like there’s no stopping the media house as they seek to expand regionally to Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia and South Africa.
DigiFarm, a Safaricom subsidiary, offers Kenyan smallholder farmers end to end value through their integrated mobile phone platform where they can access information on credit, input and markets. Digifarm has over 1.3 million registered users and over 234 Digital Village Advisors (DVAs), lead farmers who support fellow farmers from registration to aggregation. Mercy Corps’ AgriFin has supported DigiFarm since its inception with user experience (UX) design expertise to help the program reach its target market of smallholder farmers, including the design and implementation of the Digital Village Advisors (DVA) network and registration of more than 90,000 farmers. DigiFarm looks to continue working with AgriFin to scale its operations and portfolios.
To read more about our farmers and partners experiences, download our Farmers of AgriFin Booklet.