Farmer groups are considered instrumental for social and economic purposes. They are formed to maximize the efficiency of agricultural production by disseminating newly developed technologies to farmers as well as setting up common goals and developing new strategies. Maximizing agricultural outputs is very crucial in a country like Kenya because it is one of the major sources of GDP growth. In recent years, the private sector and NGOs have been increasing their adoption of the Farmer-Group Approach. The predisposition to groups is driven by the challenges farmers encounter in their farming activities and day-to-day lives. Through farmers’ groups, farmers have been able to benefit immensely in terms of agricultural production, household welfare, and social-economic status. This has been observed through:
Accessing extension information. The Public extension delivery system has been constrained due to the high ratio of extension officers to farmers and this has necessitated farmers to form groups where they can be trained easily by fewer extension officers on the ground and also seek extension services from the private sector, NGOs and other agricultural-related agencies. By working with farmers’ groups, extension agents can get more insight into farmers’ conditions, problems, and needs. This way, they can better prepare their extension activities and also conduct follow-ups easily. Examples of programs working with farmers’ groups include NARIGP a government project that aims at increasing agricultural productivity and profitability through training and working with farmers’ groups in different selected value chains, KCSAP a project which aims to promote climate-smart agricultural practices and offers training to farmers using farmers’ group approach.
Accessing credit and inputs. Some farmers form groups to save money and to access timely and collateral-free credit. Several banks and microfinance institutions have leveraged farmers’ groups. For example, Faulu Bank, Juhudi Kilimo, Rafiki Microfinance among others usually give credit to the group or individual farmers in the group with flexible collateral options and repayment periods. Through this access to credit, farmers can easily access inputs, pay school fees for their children, invest in other businesses, etc. This eventually improves their household welfare.
Reducing information asymmetry among farmers through ensuring timeous dissemination of information and new technologies. Farmers learn about new and appropriate technologies especially if they are in groups because the groups create an avenue for farmers to meet regularly and share ideas and information. Groups ensure that farmers are always informed and aware of any agricultural-related inventions and this promotes their farm productivity and efficiency. For instance, farmer field schools (FFS) is a group-based adult learning approach that is used by governments, NGOs, and other development agencies to promote the adoption of agricultural technologies among smallholder farmers. It gives farmers an opportunity to share ideas, experiment, and solve their problems independently.
Overcoming marketing challenges. Some farmers form groups to overcome the challenges they face when selling their produce. These problems can take the form of exploitation by brokers, limited access to the market, poor market prices, cost implications among others. When farmers are in groups they can improve their bargaining power in the market by aggregating their collective pressure on the buyers, resulting in better prices for their produce. This also reduces the influence of brokers in the value chain as well as reduces the cost burden of individual farmers because the group sells in bulk. Farm to Market Alliance is one organization that has been training and connecting farmers to the market. They train farmers’ groups on the benefits of consolidating high-quality produce in well-equipped aggregation buying centers where buyers can easily access the produce.
Active farmers’ groups are the basis of many rural development activities as they are the self-driving engines for growth in the community. From my experience with Village Based Advisors (VBAs) in Kiambu and Embu Counties, under an LDRI’s Extension Support Program, active farmers’ groups have been receiving crucial training from different stakeholders, for instance, input companies, Faulu Microfinance Bank, Hand in Hand EA among others. They have been trained on good agricultural practices, improved maize varieties, Crop Protection Products, vegetable farming, agroforestry, financial and loan management, savings mobilization, enterprise development among others. Despite the challenges faced by the groups such as poor management, lack of transparency and accountability, low participation by some members, etc, the benefits reaped make it all worthwhile.