When the flight from Dhaka touched down at Kenya’s main airport in Nairobi on 10 April 2016, the excitement among 13 of its Bangladeshi passengers – including senior staff from the country’s ministries of agriculture, fisheries, livestock, planning and finance – was palpable. They had come to the East African country for a weeklong study tour to learn more about how farmers’ organizations (FOs) and the Kenyan Government act together to meet the Nation’s food security goals.
Shared development goals
With the exception of a shared British colonial past, Bangladesh and Kenya are strikingly different in terms of landscape, culture, language and history. Yet, both countries have put agriculture, food security and better nutrition at the top of their development agendas.
And both have made great agricultural strides since gaining independence. Today, Kenya has a vibrant food and agriculture sector that contributes half of its economy thanks to tea, coffee, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Whereas Bangladesh has managed to triple rice production to feed its 160 million people–a population four times greater than Kenya’s, squeezed onto land one-fourth its size.
Strengthening investment capacities
The study tour was part of a capacity building component of the Integrated Agriculture Productivity Project (IAPP), financed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and implemented by the Government of Bangladesh and FAO. FAO’s technical assistance aims to strengthen capacities in Bangladesh for better investment – both public and private – in agriculture, food security and nutrition.
In low- and middle-income countries, the main private investors are farmers themselves. However, in Bangladesh, family farms are so small that without joining forces through various types of FOs, farmers have little chance to access markets, credit facilities or the knowledge required to move into more commercial production. Given that FOs in Bangladesh are still weak, the Bangladeshi colleagues were eager to learn more from their Kenyan peers.
FOs as agribusinesses
Kenya has a long and rich history with farmers’ cooperatives, dating back to the 1940s, before the country’s independence. Over the decades, Kenyan FOs have overcome challenges and difficulties to become well-organized and professional entities with a strong governance setup, providing their members with business advice, access to bulk marketing and the technical know-how to adapt to demand. They also defend members’ interests and rights with private value chain actors and the public administration.
During the study tour, the Bangladeshi colleagues visited active Kenyan cooperatives, dealing with coffee, tea, bananas and various value chains, to learn how they operate, bulk their products, find markets, fight for better prices, add value, provide good inputs, etc. The Kenyan FOs’ approach to business left a positive impression on the Bangladeshi team.
“FOs should have an entrepreneurship mindset,” said one of the study tour participants, adding that for FO sustainability, there was “no alternative”.
Partnering with government
The Bangladeshi team also learned how Kenyan FOs and cooperatives were able to federate themselves at county and national level so that they are heard, respected and stronger,helping to improve the lives of millions of farmers –a goal shared by the Government and the FOs.
They were struck by the close interactions between FOs and various layers of the Government, as well as parliament.
During the study tour, members of parliament made it clear that FOs were constructive allies with shared interests, working hand in hand to help advance Kenya’s agriculture sector.
One Bangladeshi participant said that this relationship between the Kenyan Government and FOs enabled “good implementation of current policies, contrary to Bangladesh”, which was something they would “have to work on”.
And in the spirit of South-South cooperation, the learning was two-way, with the Kenyan colleagues keen to know more about production practices in Bangladesh.
Strengthening FOs back home
In addition to the Government ministers, the Bangladeshi study group featured two FAO colleagues from Dhaka who have worked tirelessly to develop FOs in Bangladesh, and two Bangladeshi FO leaders who formed a national alliance last year to support emerging FOs.
At the end of the week, the group came away with a better idea of how to improve the environment for FO development in Bangladesh.
That requires “capacity development in governance, accounting, human and institutional development, financial management and procurement,” said one participant.
Another added that the country “needs to strengthen its policy and regulatory framework to ensure transparent and accountable FOs” and that the extension approach “must target groups rather than individuals”.The Kenya National Farmers’ Federation (KENAFF) helped organize the study tour,doing a tremendous job inopening doors– from small groups and cooperatives to decision-makers at the highest levels. KENAFF has proven that connecting family farmers with the capital’s policy-makers is to the benefit of all.
* Senior Economist and Task Leader, Investment Center (TCI) of FAO, Rome, Italy
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