Farmers in Counties in the former Western Province and Trans Nzoia have faced inconsistent fortunes when it comes to agricultural success, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing more uneasiness across the board. With all the turmoil in the sector even before the pandemic, there have been calls for them to focus on diversification or other forms of agriculture, sentiments which were reiterated by the outgoing Agricultural Finance Corporation MD Lucas Meso. Speaking during an interview with West FM, Meso, who hails from Busia County, called on Western residents to embrace other favorable tenets of farming, instead of just focusing in sugarcane farming, “It’s not written anywhere that Western residents should only major in sugarcane farming.”
With conducive weather patterns, available labour among other factors, Meso said horticulture farming, poultry, rice, fish and dairy farming can come in handy, “If you try any farming venture, you can’t fail to get returns,” he added. He said Western Counties have the potential to establish good dairy and poultry farming credentials, “People know chicken from Western is good because we like chicken, the Kienyeji chicken. If we market ourselves well, then other Counties will come for our chicken.”
The AFC MD said, in hindsight, sugarcane farming has been the greatest problem facing the region, because many farmers were left financially inept. “When sugarcane farming became the main thing, our good farms were taken. Residents let the companies do everything, from preparing the farming land, to providing fertilizer, to harvesting,” he stated, “As a farmer, you end up owing the company money long after sugarcane has been harvested.” He urged farmers who are focused on sugarcane farming to ensure they do everything themselves and engage the companies only during the reaping stage, “That way, you will make money.”
On the issue of leasing of sugar industries, he said it will be beneficial since private investors will have a grip on the business side of things. “We know the companies were run by the government, which isn’t the best steward when it comes to running business entities, and the industries collapsed due to that.” However, he said regulations must be followed to ensure the investors don’t use the industries for their private gain.
With the scourge of youth unemployment heightened during the Covid-19 pandemic, Meso asked youths to embrace agriculture as a venture, noting that unemployment is more psychological, “If you’ve gone to school, finished higher education and earned a degree, you can’t say there is noting you can’t do to get some little money.” He revealed there are programs for the youth set aside by the government, citing an agricultural training program. In this program, youths will be taken through training for around six months, and will be tutored on the type of farming they want to practise and shown how to profit from it. After that they’ll be given funds, interest free and support to be able to employ other young people.