Where is the Money in Small scale Farming?

This interview was originally posted by our Head of Programmes, Sylvia Ng’eno on her personal blog

We know there are 500 million small scale farmers worldwide and 2 billion people depend on them for their livelihoods. Growing up in a small-scale farming community in rural Kenya, the perception was one of farming for food more than farming to earn. Money came from either cash crops (tea and maize mainly) and formal office employment. It was clear that education was supposed to train you to find a job away or out of farming and farming and/or agriculture was never a career to aspire to. With this mindset, farming and/or agriculture became a last resort as a means of livelihood, the attitude towards farming and money still needs to be switched among the youth.  Farming has not been, a first exciting aspiring career choice as it does not seem well paying or even have a ‘competitive salary’ or an attractive return on investment.

You then wonder if the agribusiness movement and more focus on youth in agriculture has improved or changed these perceptions, below are responses from Agaba Kenneth, one of Producers Direct’s Uganda based youth leaders about his farming community in Kayonza, Kanungu District:

Is profits or money the motivation to farm in your community?

We have two types of farmers in my community food crop farmers who farm to get food for their homes and little for sale. Then we have a few cash crop (tea) farmers who farm to get money, pay school fees and little is left to buy food. The key motivations to farm are:

  1. Feeding families and communities: the biggest population here farm to feed their families and communities with variety of food little is produced for sale
  2. Culture and passion: others farm simply because it is what their culture requires and are sometimes passionate about farming
  3. Farming inventions, innovations and research also makes farmers farm and this is done by few and rich farmers and research institutions
  4. Environmental conservation: By farming, some farmers aim at protecting the environment, for example fish farming in swamps as a conservation method.

Do you think being a cash crop farmer is a lucrative agribusiness?

Being a cash crop farmer is only lucrative to rich farmers because, it requires large land sizes and a lot of capital and in most cases involves both labour- and capital-intensive techniques of production, and there are very few such farmer in my community.Smallholder farmers who deal in tea only looks to it as the source of a consistent monthly income and do not get enough money to diversify to other income sources, this makes them poor amidst their engagement in cash crop farming. Most of the cash crop income is used to buy food and little is left for other needs.According to me, farmers should also invest in food crops by starting small getting inspired and educated in that farm micro enterprise and then, look for advanced methods to make money consistently, for example, contract farming, as cash crop farming is only lucrative with large land sizes and advanced use of technology which small-scale farmers cannot afford.

Are youth into cash crop (coffee/tea) farming than other farming activities?

I am a member of youth platform that has registered only 24 youth in coffee and tea farming and most of them either inherited the cash crop from their fathers or bought land with cash crops from farmers who were moving to other parts of Uganda. The rest of the youth on the platform, 376 in total, are into other farm micro enterprises; horticulture, livestock and apiary farming. I have seen the development of a generation of innovative farms and farming techniques that shifts the farming perspective to putting money in the pockets first and food on tables. Agriculture now requires investments in research, knowledge exchange and partnerships to get a good return on investment. This is a different farming generation that has patience and passion acquired through trainings, record keeping, research and learning.