Lack of markets hinders growth of women's agribusinesses in Narok County

Lack of markets hinders growth of women's agribusinesses in Narok County

While rates of female entrepreneurship are relatively high in Kenya, women’s businesses are often informal, tend to underperform and have a high risk of failure. One explanation for the underperformance is the lack of access to markets. The “Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises (EOWE)” programme builds on the opportunities to be found in strengthening women’s entrepreneurship and leadership as well as improving their access to inputs, assets and markets in the agribusiness sector. To ensure significant and lasting change SNV works hand-in-hand with key local partners. In Kenya, one of these partners is the civil society organisation (CSO) Nguzo Africa. In the below guest blog, Elizaphan Ogechi, Executive Director of Nguzo Africa, describes the key findings and opportunities to increase women’s economic empowerment through enhanced access to markets in Narok county.

The majority of women's agribusinesses in Narok County are failing or stagnating due to lack of markets for their farm produce, which discourages female farmers to grow crops and raise livestock. This was one of the key findings of a baseline survey conducted by SNV Kenya and Nguzo Africa in July 2017. In Mau Narok for example, the majority of women farmers explained that farming is quite demoralising due to lack of markets and fluctuating prices of farm produce. The roads are often impassable making it difficult to take the farm produce to markets. "We are at the mercy of brokers and middlemen”, says Beatrice Masikonde, a female farmer from the Emaoi Women Group in Ololopil Ward, Narok North. “We are just taking bets in farming. Sometimes you get, sometimes you don't. I expected to get huge returns from my 1 acre potato farm, but now I'm struggling to sell them due to glut. A sack of potatoes is now sold for 600 Kenyan shillings (Kshs), whereas four months ago the price was Kshs 3,000."

Similar sentiments are echoed by women entrepreneurs in Nairegia Enkare who are struggling to get a sustainable buyer for their exotic and indigenous poultry. "We supplied our 500 chicken to buyers in Thika, Nairobi and Naivasha, but we never received our money”, says Doris Kinayia from the Empiris Self Help Group in Keekonyokie Ward, Narok East. “After facing these challenges early 2017, we resolved to find other markets for our produce. We now sell our poultry locally which is more predictable." Josephine Sena from the Naretoi Women Group in Ololulunga in Narok South has produced well finished steers, but she is struggling to find a viable market. "The kind of prices being quoted by brokers for my bulls are so discouraging. I wish I had connections to high end markets to sell this quality livestock.”

Horticulture producers are also hit hard. "We started our group in 2014 with 10 members. We invested in tomato production, but we were pushed out due to lack of markets. Then we switched to beans and maize farming, but market prices are still discouraging," explains Catherine Biomodo from the Upendo Women Group in Ilmotiok Ward, Narok West.

We have established that not all of women’s agribusinesses will succeed in farming on a commercial basis. Many are already diversifying into non-agricultural activities that are more lucrative than farming. Lilian Kimiriny from the Good Will Ambassadors Women Group in Ololulunga Ward, Narok South, also moved to non-agricultural activities. "After facing marketing challenges in wheat and maize farming, we diversified to table banking by offering empowerment loans to members. The activities have helped us to provide food and clothing and pay the school fees."

The Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 (AASR2017) affirms that many smallholder farmers are already diversifying into non-agricultural activities that are more lucrative than farming, while others are trapped in subsistence farming under conditions that make it difficult to compete in markets. The report emphasises that "governments must work with the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in undertaking targeted interventions to help commercialise many more smallholders and assist the development of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) along value chains."

If many farmers are dropping out, this will form a major challenge to provide food for the increasing population. These findings by SNV Kenya and Nguzo Africa resonate with remarks of Dr. Akiwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, who said that African farmers have been unable to feed the continent because they are not motivated to farm as a way of creating wealth. “Africa must win gold in agriculture, but before we do that, we must do the right things first,” he said during the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Nairobi on 27-28 August 2016. Dr. Adesina argued that farmers may grow promising crops and get good yields, but in the absence of markets farmers are earning losses.

Filling baseline data by the Amani Self Help Group, Ololulunga Ward Narok South

Filling baseline data by the Amani Self Help Group, Ololulunga Ward Narok South

Filling baseline data by Olgilai Lekule Women Group, Ololulunga Ward Narok South

Filling baseline data by Olgilai Lekule Women Group, Ololulunga Ward Narok South

Nguzo Africa and SNV interventions aim at commercialising women-led small farms
Through SNV’s EOWE programme, Nguzo Africa is providing agricultural development interventions aimed at commercialising women-owned small farms and agribusinesses in Narok County. Already 25 women's agribusinesses have been identified for capacity building, particularly in basic business management, use of new agriculture technologies and farming methods.

A comprehensive baseline analysis has been carried out in all the 25 participating enterprises. The baseline captured details of group members, commodities they produce, number of household members, age, and income from their agribusinesses in previous years. It also captured how these businesses were accessing finance and inputs. Participating enterprises provided details on access to markets which indicated that 100% of women producers were selling to local markets mainly through middlemen. The analysis will be used to enhance the capacity of women smallholder farmers to have viable agribusinesses that are competitive in modern value chains.

Subsequently, a training needs assessment was carried out to identify the diverse training needs of each business. It was established that more than 70% of women’s enterprises need training on basic business management such as writing business proposals, keeping records, conducting sales and marketing. Others need training on how to transform their groups into viable cooperatives and SMEs. Some groups want specific trainings on indigenous poultry production, steer fattening, sheep and goat fattening, pasture production, horticulture farming and disease control. Nguzo Africa will work closely with relevant county departments to offer these trainings.

To enhance access to finance and credit, a county level workshop was held to link the 25 leaders of the participating women’s enterprises to three Micro Finance Institutions (Musomi, Eclof and Jitegemea), one bank (Chase Bank) and three government finance institutions (Women Enterprise Fund (WEF), Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) and Uwezo Fund). The workshop helped women entrepreneurs to appreciate the immense opportunities available to them to access finance and credit.

Development of favourable policies at the county level
Smallholder farming is characterised by biased policy regimes that erodes the performance and competitiveness of women farmers. To address this challenge, the programme seeks to work with the county government and likeminded stakeholders to advocate for gender-responsive legal frameworks to catapult growth of women's agribusinesses.

A women's agribusiness association will be established to lobby the county government to develop women’s economic empowerment policies and provide funding to address identified challenges. The lobby will organise Governor's roundtable meetings to review county government actions in the implementation of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Agenda in the County Integrated Development Plan for 2018-2022. The lobby will also push for the establishment of value addition zones for beef, tomatoes, potatoes and cereals processing to provide sustainable markets for farm produce.

Way forward
Building viable and efficient women agribusinesses in Kenya is still open for learning. The opportunities provided by county governments and development partners such as SNV and Nguzo Africa should be harnessed to provide successful pathways for women's agribusinesses.

As highlighted by AASR 2017, the integration of smallholders into agricultural value chains therefore requires the transformation and operational diversification of producer organisations through acquisition of the necessary technical, commercial, and financial resources to enable them to efficiently and effectively fulfil all the major technology, market, and financial needs of their membership. In other words, they need to develop into business-oriented entities that can serve as credible business partners to other actors along the value chain.

African food markets are projected to grow six fold by 2025, most of the expansion driven by urban demand for processed staples (Haggblade, 2011). This means county governments should focus on providing a conducive environment for private investors to establish value addition processing zones for various farm produce.

SNV's focus on developing capacity of women's enterprises through skills development, deployment of technology, knowledge transfer and learning exchanges for women farmers should be applauded. Building technical, production, advocacy, commercial and organisation governance skills for women's agribusinesses is critical for success.

It is now clear that farmer organisations, market operators, finance and input/asset providers, processors, development partners, research institutions and governments should work seamlessly together to offer markets in struggling agricultural value chains.

Written by Elizaphan Ogechi, Executive Director at Nguzo Africa
* Photo credit: Nguzo Africa