By David Njagi
NAIROBI, Aug 9 (IPS) - Mourid Abdi Dolal and Wilson Rotich are both small-scale farmers who grow staple crops. But while one sells his produce at the local village market, the other farms to feed the growing number of refugees in Kenya.
Rotich may have found purpose in a World Food Programme (WFP) led enterprise that links small-scale farmers to markets through the Purchase for Progress (P4P) project.
For every successful harvest, Rotich puts aside a share of the yield, which he sells to WFP through smallholder friendly tenders. This, according to WFP officials, is a new approach to pool relief food locally from farmers instead of importing it from overseas.
The 57-year-old Rotich from Kenya's Rift Valley Province has a 1.2 hectare farm in Transmara village where he practices crop rotation with corn, beans and a couple of other leguminous plants.
But until he learnt of the P4P project, his hard-earned yield hardly made a profit. These days, however, he can sell his yield to WFP at the national market rate. It's about five times more than what he used to earn selling it locally.
Now Rotich sells a 90 kg bag of either dry maize or sorghum for between 42 to 51 dollars and a 90 kg bag of rosecoco beans will earn him up to 71 dollars.
Previously he would only earn 11 dollars for a 90 kg bag of dry maize or sorghum and between 10 to 13 dollars for a 90 kg bag of rosecoco beans.
'WFP officers told us to form farmer organisations through which they would (buy) our farm yields,' says Rotich. 'This has helped my family because I am able to pay school fees and even foot hospital bills when one of us falls sick.'
The public information officer for WFP Kenya, Rose Ogolla, says P4P is a social enterprise keen on improving small-scale farmers' access to markets as well inspiring them to invest more in agriculture through innovation.
According to Ogolla, the project is meant to involve farmers in the local market chain by either entering into a contract or through smallholder tendering.
At the contract level, she says, WFP negotiates with farmer organisations before the planting season to supply food at a given price where payment is made upon delivery, and can be used by farmers to access loans.
But where a farmer has entered into a tender, a competitive process is used to invite several farmer groups or agro dealers to bid for the supply of food to WFP, where they are not required to pay performance bonds, she says. (A performance bond is a fee that bidders are expected to pay to prove that they are able to finance a big tender contract during the public procurement process.)
'The project is meant to shore up the relief food supply chain as well as make agriculture attractive by offering farmers a ready market,' says Ogolla. 'We do this by entering into a contract or a tender with farmers, which allows them to sell grain to us at the prevailing market price.'
A statement released in July by WFP indicates that farmers with less than three hectares of land in the Rift Valley, Western, Lower Eastern and Coast Provinces are currently benefiting from the five-year project that winds up in 2013.
All that a farmer needs is to be legally registered with a cooperative organisation, to be able to generate 56 metric tonnes of food from their small-scale farm, have proper storage facilities and a bank account.
The project comes at a time when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki described the drought in the East African country as a national disaster. But the enterprise has won both praise and scorn from social and economic players.
Dolal, a pastoralist who has ventured into dry land farming, says he has not benefited from the P4P project because it has not reached North Eastern Province, a region that is home to a growing number of drought refugees in the country and from Somalia. Dolal, who is now practicing small-scale horticulture in his drought-stricken Dertu village, says he is able to harvest reasonable quantities of kale, tomatoes and cowpeas, but they can only provide him with a small income since he sells his produce to villagers at throw-away prices.
'I would be happy if WFP reached out to us with subsidies because my village is about 50 kilometres away from the Dadaab refugee camp,' says Dolal, who is assisted by the United Nations Millennium Village Project, an innovative model that helps rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
'Our village is feeling the pressure due to a surge in displaced people fleeing from the drought,' Dolal said. Currently there are about 400,000 people at Dadaab, a majority of whom have fled the drought in Somalia.
According to Samuel Mbalu, an officer with the Millennium Village Project in Dertu, Kenya is encouraging pastoralist communities to invest in dry land farming to protect the region from periodic droughts, which he says affect almost 70 percent of the population.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, two consecutive seasons of failed rains means that North Eastern Province, like the Horn of Africa, has been reeling from the worst dry spell in 60 years.
Kenya's Official Government Spokesman and Public Communications secretary, Dr. Alfred Mutua, said Kenya is faced with the double crisis of perennial droughts and a surge of refugees. However, he is not sure whether the country has the ability to feed the growing number of displaced people, despite the success of the P4P.
However, the WFP has indicated that Kenya could suffer a setback of 40 percent of relief food supply as the United States government prepares to pull out of the WFP relief programme.
Though the Africa Biosafety Network (ABN) says P4P could be useful in protecting Kenya from importation of food laced with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as small-scale farming could increase the national food production.
Recently Kenya authorised the importation of GMO food, including GMO maize, because of an acute shortage of maize in the country. The move sparked controversy with many critics saying that the maize was not fit for human consumption.
According to the ABN advocacy coordinator, Ann Maina, the P4P project is a brilliant initiative and can address the food shortage.
'This is a good initiative because it encourages a home grown solution to the food crisis in the country and could prevent the country from importing maize laced with GMOs,' says Maina.