Philip Mulama Nyangweso is a professor of agricultural economics and resource management at Moi University and a former chairman of Africa Farm Management Association (AFMA), which brings together academicians, farmers, scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and technocrats working together to enhance agricultural productivity in Africa. He spoke to Francis Mureithi on how smallholders can commercialize their farms and farm sustainably.
Why is good farm management crucial to smallholders?
The world has become conscious of what comes from the farm and how the farm is utilized to produce food. The focus is on the sustainability of agricultural production and food safety. Sustainability requires that we balance issues of productivity, profitability, and environmental care. If we manage our farms sustainably, then we will be able to produce enough food for the growing population.
What are the best farm management tools for smallholder farmers?
These are things that are easily done on the farm, including choosing quality seed varieties and breeding stock for livestock, having good storage facilities to avoid post-harvest losses, control of pests, and adding value to produce.
All these contribute to overall food production and profits for farmers.
How can smallholder farmers commercialise their farms?
They must work on minimizing costs by going for quality but affordable inputs. They must further ensure they operate efficiently by getting cost-effective labor. When looking for markets, they must avoid exploitative brokers. On mechanization, they should use machines adaptable to small farms.
How does AFMA work with smallholder farmers in the continent?
It brings all stakeholders on board. This is not an association of academicians. They interact and exchange ideas, knowledge, skills and technologies. This cross-breeding of ideas enables farmers to learn and pick skills and technologies that they apply on their farms.
Smallholder farmers must be well-informed and empowered to make the right decisions on where to get farm inputs and buy machines, how to control disease and pests and sell produce.
How can farmers help mitigate the effects of climate change?
By applying proper management of soils and using sustainable cultivation practices; those that do not damage the soil and biodiversity. They need to use minimum chemicals and pesticides and conserve the environment to reduce the emission of greenhouse.
Smallholder farmers must be empowered. The government must be at the forefront in ensuring that the various stakeholders are aware of the signals that come with climate change. Farmers must know the risks emanating from climate change and how to respond.
This will make it easier for them to address these challenges. We need a policy framework that facilitates smallholder farmers to access knowledge that would help them mitigate the effects of climate change.
As climate change effects get worse, what crops or livestock do you advice farmers to farm?
Farmers should plant crops that are resilient to drought, pests and diseases, and mature early like finger millet and sorghum. They should also plant crops that are resistant to bird attacks and do mixed farming instead of relying on one crop or animal. Keeping of zebus, small animals like goats and sheep which are relatively resistant to drought and diseases helps.
Camels can survive for long periods in dry areas as they withstand tough terrain.