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Small Scale Farmers' Resilience to Covid-Related Shocks

I grew up in a small village at the foothills of Mt Kenya- the second highest mountain in Africa. Our livelihood was agriculture, the weather was good with timely rainfall. Agricultural communal activities included planting and weeding; the harvest festivals could easily rival a wedding ceremony.

My village was my whole world. One year, the rains failed. It was the same for the next two seasons. There were whispers everywhere, the land turned brown. Then huge trucks started arriving carrying yellow grain- the taste was different.

As a young child, I wanted to help, I couldn’t understand why after all the hard work we suddenly had nothing to show for it. And hence began my interest in climate and food systems.

On my first visit to Kitale as a young professional, many things stood out in contrast to other parts of Kenya. The two that have remained is the food and rain. The land is expansive and rainfall is year round- so much fresh food and steaming tea!

Although the region is productive, land productivity is low resulting from low adoption of technologies, poor crop management practices and lack of extension services. This results to the farmers expanding farming area and encroaching natural resources to meet the rising food demand. On the flip side, food trade is lucrative – both domestic and international. Food produced here is transported to many parts of Kenya and other countries.

In early 2020, the Covid pandemic struck, borders were shut.

Kitale in Trans Nzoia region features in this Fork to Farm dialogue because Covid is testing the resilience of its food supply chains - and food trade is its heart. The pause caused by Covid, exposed gaps and shone opportunities to streamline food flow and trade. The dialogues will provide a feedback loop for the farmers, traders and local authorities to discuss these challenges and opportunities and how they impact their livelihoods.

This dialogue will facilitate an opportunity to increase the participation of women and youth in local dialogues as cultural inhibitions and lack of platforms have silenced their voices. Traditionally, women in the communities around Kitale town are prohibited from speaking out aloud in the public. To hear their voices, we will engage farmers in dialogues held at a local farm. We will begin with a group session exploring local food systems and two breakout sessions composed of women and young voices. We will host a Q & A session for the farmers, local authorities, and market actors to provide a platform for unified feedback. The participants will include men, women, and youth farmers, traders and local authorities’ discussions on problems they face and seek localised solutions for efficient food systems.

It’s our hope that the forged relations will stimulate future dialogues and active community feedback.

This dialogue will be run as part of Farm Africa’s wider work. Farm Africa works with rural farmers in Africa; in our Growing Futures Project, Trans Nzoia County, we have engaged local farmers to improve farm productivity and market engagement. The focus value chains are horticulture for export and local markets. The participation of youth and women in food trade is low. Because of this, we will use the Farm to Fork dialogues as a platform to publicly engage all involved market players.

We are excited to see the outcomes of our Fork to Farm dialogues. How will Kitale farmers overcome barriers that affect their livelihoods? What is the future of food trade and how sustainable is it? Follow us to hear what they said!

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