7/19/17 – This blog post is written by students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University who have founded FarmRise to address the challenge of food security in Kenya.
Albert Einstein might as well have been describing the GSSE venture experience when he said: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The FarmRise team has spent nearly a year at Colorado State University researching global food insecurity. We grew to know the challenges facing smallholder farmers, who produce roughly 80% of the world’s food and also make up a majority of the world’s 795 million food insecure people. Since we arrived in Kenya, we have begun to understand what that means for the individual farmers embedded in this statistic.
Bridging the Knowledge Gap
We knew that in Kenya, agriculture employs 75% of the workforce, yet smallholder farmers are often stuck in a cycle of poverty. Now we understand the dimensions of this cycle after listening to a group of farmers rank the multitude of challenges they face, ranging from low production due to counterfeit inputs sold in the market to lack of access to reliable traders, forcing sales to middlemen who undercut farmers at every turn.
We knew that drought is a critical issue in the region, exacerbating food insecurity by dampening farm production levels and forcing spikes in food prices. We now understand the extent of the problem after a local farmer guided us through her parched, dusty plot of land while explaining that due to the lack of rain, she could not harvest any crops this season.
We knew that crop storage is an underutilized practice among smallholder farmers. Now we understand the decision to sell a crop immediately post-harvest is not based on the lack of access to storage, but rather the need to earn quick cash to pay their children’s school fees.
Following the Value Chain to the Source
We know and understand that the farmer-food security paradox cannot be explained by any one challenge in isolation. During our six weeks in Kenya, we aim to examine every link of the agriculture supply chain, with the support of our partner, Farm Concern International. We are meeting not only with smallholder farmers, but also with input suppliers, processors, traders, brokers, insurance companies, financiers, NGOs, donors, small and local businesses, elected officials, and government agencies to better understand this puzzle. In doing so, we aim to identify sustainable business opportunities that serve the needs of smallholder farmers.
And perhaps cross paths with some elephants and monkeys along the way…