Small Farmers Scale Up To Grow Rice For WFP

WFP staff load the rice bought from farmers onto trucks.

 (Copyright: WFP/Gabrielle Menezes)

WFP has for the first time bought food from small scale farmers in Kenya, acquiring food for drought-hit Kenyans elsewhere in the country while at the same time encouraging small farmers to think more about markets.

AHERO -- The 40-ton sale of rice was made by a cooperative of rice farmers in Ahero in Western Kenya, as part of the Purchase for Progress (P4P) project. P4P is a groundbreaking project through which WFP hopes to encourage low-income farmers to grow more by buying their surplus crops.

The farmers in Ahero are delighted by the large purchase made by WFP. The whole cooperative turns up to witness the check presented to them by the Kenya Country Director.  There is singing, and many hands are clasped and shaken.

Buy cattle

“With the money I get I’m going to take my brothers to school, and also, maybe buy some cattle,” says one of the farmers, Simon  Karuki. “We’re very happy that WFP has taken some of our food to help those who are lacking food in some parts of the country, and we are very proud of what we have done.”

Although WFP tries to buy from local farmers whenever possible, it normally buys from large, commercial vendors who offer the large amounts of food WFP needs.  Under P4P there is a committed policy to also purchase from low income farmers.

“P4P is a win-win situation.” said WFP Country Director Burkard Oberle. “We help support local famers. The rice grown in Ahero will be used in WFP’s operation to assist Kenyans hit by drought. WFP would like to thank the Brazilian Government for the donation, which made this purchase possible.”

Healthy rice plants

Travelling to Ahero, roads are lined with green paddy fields, full of the new, healthy, rice plants. Young men sit ready at the sides of the roads to chase birds away from the tender, young, rice.

This year, farmers here managed to grow almost double what they normally would have been able to, thanks to an irrigation scheme that had been rehabilitated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

P4P was launched last year in September 2008, but because of high food prices, and drought, WFP was unable to purchase food in Kenya. Now, the program has been adapted to focus on buying drought resistant crops, like millet and sorghum, and irrigated crops, like the rice grown in Ahero. It is hoped that small scale farmers will be encouraged to grow more drought resistant crops, rather than the white maize, which is loved by Kenyans, but which relies on regular rainfall.