Agricultural Value Chains – The Small-Holder Revolution

More than 80 per cent of land in Kenya is arable. And while 40 per cent of the population work in agriculture, the sector accounts for only 26 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While many debate the roots of this stagnation, the playing field has already changed – a landscape crippled by climate change and growing numbers in need.

Farmers who are accustomed to rain-fed farming systems are being pushed into arid areas on the fringes of society where persistent drought and unpredictable weather patterns hamper their means of survival. Where once agriculture was seen as the best income option for rural communities, now its ability to lift households out of poverty is waning. New approaches and a fresh mindset are urgently needed. And for many, it’s a matter of survival.


Dorcas’ agricultural value chains programme is working to turn the situation around – and address the multi-dimensional challenges that the sector is facing. “Our work is founded in value-added agriculture”, explains Erwin. “Where various actors cooperate to produce higher-quality products.” A value chain differs from a supply chain – which works with logistics and practical steps. Rather, it comprises a set of activities that serve to act as a flow linking products, knowledge and information, finance, payments and social capital in one; in a bid to add value on the journey to market.“It’s a lot about being adaptive and open to change”, he continues. “Once plentiful maize harvests are now cattle fodder. We need to revisit the production process holistically”.

The wider programme comprises three projects – Makueni Pasture and Milk VC, Kitui Honey Value Chain (HIVES) and Siaya Chicken Value Chain – in three regions adversely affected by climate change. We work with communities, the private sector and county governments to support agri-value chains in everything from milk to chicken. Kenyan farmers learn how to grow or produce products that remain largely untouched by drought and do well in loam soils with more moisture such as hay, honey and mung beans. Even better, these items can be processed – transforming staple crops, for example, the humble green gram, into local delicacies such as mung dal dumplings or sweet halwa. If chosen correctly, processed foods can add value to staple crops and boost household incomes, helping small-holder farmers support their family and become role models in their society.

A fruitful harvest

Theresia, a Kenyan farm owner, couldn’t agree more. “Before I followed Dorcas training, I grew crops such as corn and beans. But my harvest often failed because there was not enough rain. Thanks to Dorcas, I now choose crops that need less time to grow and that are less dependent on rainfall”, he explains. “Last year I harvested a whopping 500kg of hay which helped me earn enough to pay my grandchildren’s school costs.”

Participants who join the Dorcas Field School also learn how to apply climate-smart agricultural practices and quickly get the opportunity to put them to the test. “Dorcas taught me about water conservation – how to grow grass and plant trees on my land to keep the earth cool and reduce the chance of erosion”, Theresia continues. “We learned how important trees are in preventing and combating climate change. God blesses Dorcas and all they have done.”

Rising demand

A further advantage of such products is that they are high in demand yet low in supply – take honey, for example, which in recent years has experienced a global shortage. Dorcas finds these markets and invests in financial and technical support for farmers helping small agribusinesses diversify their product line and broaden their operations. In Makueni county, participants within our Pasture and Milk VC, a small-scale cooperative, are already reaping the benefits of growing investment and greater demand in Kenya’s dairy sector. Dorcas supports dairy farmers to produce and sell a range of milk-based products to retail and hospitality customers across the Eastern Province. Through local initiatives such as Village Community Banking, we are able to free up finance and promote best practice. We also provide loans so that farmers can invest in new technologies such as milking machines and cooling systems.

Looking ahead

“The financial loan has helped me get my business off the ground and build a reputation”, says Mary, a local milk seller. “I receive the milk from the farmers in the morning. Then I measure it, put it in the machine and sell it to my customers. I’ve been doing this job for a year now. I enjoy working.” And Mary is not alone. Veronica Masavi, a farmer’s wife, took part in her first training session with Dorcas in 2015. Since then, she’s played a major role in the development of her family-run dairy business. “I started following classes at the Farmer Field School because I heard that I could make money from milk production. Once I completed the training, I bought my first cow. I also joined training courses on marketing – I learnt how to market my product and about value-added practices such as how to feed the cows to get the best milk. When I made enough money, I bought a second cow. Then I made even more, and bought a motorcycle so I no longer had to carry the milk to the store on foot.” As for her community? “Change takes time and there are challenges, of course, but I am positive about what’s to come. I think we all have a little more hope for the future.”

27 July 2020