By David Waiyaki, Faith Nyagwoka and Alex Hori
Since 2019, MEDA, Farm Forestry Smallholder Producers Association of Kenya (FF SPAK), and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) have partnered together to encourage farmers to form and join registered cooperatives in the Coastal counties of Taita Taveta, Kwale, and Kilifi, Kenya.
FF SPAK is an umbrella organization working with farmer groups in rural Kenya to promote and champion the interests of smallholder forestry farmers. Previously, the organization was focused on supporting farmers in the Western region of Kenya, despite significant need among farmers in the Coast.
Through a matching grant provided by the M-SAWA project, Coastal farmers gain greater market access and improved technical skills through business trainings, with a focus on gender inclusion, sustainable agriculture, and land management. Equipped with sounder business knowledge, more farmers are dedicating land to farm forestry and forming producer groups, which will lead to more profitable trade in the Kenyan forestry industry.
According to Edwin Kamau, FF-SPAK Project Coordinator, the Coastal region has generally been characterized with low government and private sector investments leading to poor farmer organizations, lack of market access and heavy reliance on subsistence farming.
“The farmers were generally not oriented to do business and existing groups were either weak, collapsing [or] not ready to engage. [However], we see a lot of potential in the coastal region due to favorable climatic conditions for farm forestry and the larger land sizes. We anticipate that the cooperatives formed under this partnership will be able to generate sustainable revenue and in turn support their activities,” Kamau said.
To maximize this potential, according to Kamau, a change in mindset among farmers is almost as important as forming cooperatives: “Farmers are now thinking about farm forestry as a business…. If we rush as an association to form cooperatives without changing [the] farmers’ mind-set from subsistence to business-oriented farming, we are bound to fail.”
Overall, this project will create strong benefits for farmers: farmers will gain greater market access, better negotiating skills and pricing, and sustainable business for farm forestry. It will also increase the incomes, jobs, and the sustainability of the association and of the farmers that it serves.