October 18, 2016

The rough road to market: tracking food flows in Laikipia County, Kenya

Krista HeinerEcoAgriculture Partners

It’s six o’clock in the morning. The sun is just rising and we’re already out on the road. We’re heading to the town of Kimanjo, located in northern Laikipia County, Kenya, to visit its market.

As part of a joint World Agroforestry and EcoAgriculture Partners research team that is funded by the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation, we are trying to figure out how food is flowing into, out of, and within Laikipia County and what challenges both consumers and traders face, so that we can help improve the food system for vulnerable people in the area. We heard that this bimonthly market is essential to feeding 20,000 local people located in this predominantly pastoral area, while serving as a significant source of livestock for butcheries in Nairobi (260 km away), and we are excited to understand what types of food are flowing into the market and from where, what types of food are flowing out of the market and where they are going; but we have to get there first.

This bimonthly market is essential to feeding 20,000 local people located in this predominantly pastoral area. Click To Tweet

The road to Kimanjo from Nanyuki (the closest big city) starts off paved, but quickly turns to dirt. Soon our Land Rover is careening over rocks, navigating through ravines, and dodging potholes that look like small craters. We pass several other traders, with sacks of potatoes, maize, and cabbages strapped on the top of their vehicles, trying desperately to make it to the market without dropping their produce in the road. We also pass large empty livestock trucks, making the long trek to the market to pick up loads of goats, sheep, cows and camels. After 60 kilometers and over 2 hours of exceedingly hard traveling, we finally arrive. As I get out of the car, I realize even my brain feels a little shaken up!

The market is bustling: traders from nearby cities have started to lay out their produce on the ground, local women are arriving and sifting through available goods, and livestock sellers from all over northern Kenya have amassed with their livestock and are already beginning to bargain with brokers. It’s quite a scene! We’ve already selected the products we want to focus on, based on a survey we did of the foods most frequently consumed in the area, so our research team sets out to start our interviews before the sun gets too much hotter. I’m off to interview people selling Irish potatoes, maize, bananas, and cabbage.

Produce sellers at Kimanjo Market in Laikipia County

Produce sellers at Kimanjo Market in Laikipia County (Photo credit: Krista Heiner)

The first person I find is a cabbage seller. He gets his cabbage from farmers in Meru County (140 km away) and pays a vehicle to transport them up to Kimanjo. He tells me the most significant challenge he faces is the insecurity on the roads and at the market. Sometimes bandits will rob traders at the market or on their way back home. The only way to make the trip up to Kimanjo worth it, he says, is to increase the prices he charges in the market.

The second person I interview is a woman selling potatoes. She also gets her potatoes from Meru County during the rainy season, but during the dry season she has to go all the way to Nyadarua County (to which there is no direct road). Fortunately, potatoes don’t spoil easily, but she still complains about the poor road network and how difficult it is to access this market.

Then, I find a man selling maize. He tells a similar story about transportation problems, and I learn that the county has been working on constructing a bridge that would open up a new route to the western part of the county (where most of the maize is grown). This would make accessing and transporting maize significantly easier and cheaper. But it’s been over 3 years since they started construction, and the locals are starting to wonder if it will ever be completed.

The author, Krista Heiner, surveys a trader in the Kimanjo Market (Photo Credit: Geoffrey Ndegwa)

The author, Krista Heiner, surveys a trader in the Kimanjo Market. (Photo Credit: Geoffrey Ndegwa)

Finally, I find a woman selling bananas. She tells me how difficult it is to sell bananas in these conditions, pointing out the direct sun and lack of any market infrastructure for shade. She says between the difficulties of transport and selling, she loses 20-40 percent of her bananas.

After a couple more hours of interviews, the large research team, composed of 2 investigators, 2 field assistants, and 3 translators, reconvenes to compare our findings. We learn from the team member charged with interviewing livestock buyers and sellers that on a good day 10 million KES in livestock can be traded at this market, with livestock sellers coming in from the neighboring counties of Samburu, Isiolo, Baringo and Marsabit, to sell to the large group of buyers who come from Nairobi, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, and Nanyuki. Amazingly, over 40 percent of the livestock sold in this market is transported all the way to consumers in Nairobi.

She says between the difficulties of transport and selling, she loses 20-40% of her bananas. Click To Tweet

But, during the months of August-September and January-March, when it’s dry, less than 1 million KES is traded per day, as the supply of livestock and demand from buyers drops dramatically. What’s more, livestock brokers frequently take advantage of pastoralists, who are desperate to sell animals quickly, by offering exceedingly low prices. Pastoralists become especially food insecure during these dry times when they are unable to sell their animals or can’t get good prices, because they depend almost entirely on the livestock trade to buy staples like maize and beans.

Livestock traders in Kimanjo Market (Photo credit: Geoffrey Ndegwa)

Livestock traders in Kimanjo Market (Photo credit: Geoffrey Ndegwa)

What does all of this mean for improving the food system for vulnerable people in Laikipia County? We’re still trying to figure that out! In addition to this site, we have looked at 2 other vulnerable sites in different regions of the county and are slowly trying to piece together the “food flow” picture. Because of the complexity, we’re using every technique we can think of to analyze the system, including mapping food flows using GIS and good old colored pencils.

A rough draft of a “Food Flow” Map in pen and colored pencil.

The research team is using a wide variety of means to record and track food flows in Laikipia County. Here, a rough draft of a “Food Flow” Map in pen and colored pencil. (Photo Credit: Krista Heiner)

What’s clear so far is that there are significant inefficiencies in the way food is traveling into, within and out of the county. Our next step is to take these data and display them, along with other primary and secondary data we’ve collected on land, water, infrastructure, education, health, and trade, as part of an interactive dashboard that will help the county government visualize and analyze these issues in a more systematic and multi-dimensional way.

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  • Simon Jennings
    October 19, 2016 at 10:34am

    Hi Krista – any potential positive links to the work of Northern Rangelands Trust on the livestock trading issues eg http://www.nrt-kenya.org/news-list/2016/weighing-scales-to-transform-nrt-trading-livestock-business


    • Krista Heiner
      October 19, 2016 at 3:38pm

      Hi Simon, Thanks for your comment. Yes, there are many positive potential links with the work of Northern Rangelands Trust. We are familiar and impressed with the work they are doing on livestock trading in Laikipia County and other counties in northern Kenya. My colleagues at the World Agroforestry Center have been in touch with them, and we hope they can contribute to the next steps of our work on these issues with the Laikipia County Government.

  • Samuel Waiswa
    December 1, 2016 at 1:13am

    This is quit encouraging. Positive transformation of agriculture in societies more so the rural community is through communities having access to relative information. It is quiet a relevant article.

    • Krista Heiner
      December 1, 2016 at 10:30am

      Thanks, Samuel. We’re glad you found it useful!

  • Stephen Wamae Kariuki
    September 15, 2017 at 1:01pm

    LAIKIPIA COUNTY –A look at the wasted water resource
    Laikipia county sits on the leeward side of Mt Kenya, traversing all the way across Aberdare range both on the eastern and western sides.
    For most parts, rainfall is inadequate for sustainable agriculture in the county. Before independence and the early years thereafter, the county was renown for raising beef cattle in ranches. Due to population pressure in the surrounding counties of Nyeri, Murang’a, Kiambu, Kirinyaga and Nakuru, many people migrated to Laikipia and bought land in small units through land buying companies. The new settlers owned small parcels of land which have become smaller and smaller as sub-division is done to cater for the population increase and the consequent demand for land.
    The biggest challenge in the county is that the settler communities, having come from crop farming backgrounds, adopted the same agricultural practices as they had practiced in their original homelands. Needless to say, the rainfall amount in Laikipia is much less than the areas these settlers came from, hence crop production has by and large completely failed, leaving the farmers in desperate financial circumstances.
    No wonder many Laikipia residents are living in abject poverty as they till their unyielding farms with very little to show for their efforts.
    Livestock rearing in these small scale farms has also not succeeded because the carrying capacity of the land in the region is much lower than the number of animals people are rearing. This has lead to massive overgrazing, soil erosion and land denudation.
    There are a number of rivers that criss-cross the county.
    Due to deforestation in the catchment areas of these rivers, namely Mt Kenya and the Aberdares, they have become seasonal in nature. They carry large volumes of water during the rainy season but are virtually dry riverbeds in the dry season.
    However, there could be an alternate remedy to this sad state of affairs. The solution to Laikipia’s agricultural challenge lies in harnessing the flood waters during the rainy season, to be used for irrigation during the dry periods. This calls for the Laikipia county government, the national government and other stakeholders, including donor countries, to come up with a project of constructing dams along these rivers.
    The volume of water that runs to waste during the wet season along these rivers is massive.
    My house lies about 30 metres from Nanyuki river and for the last 12 years that I have lived there, I have noticed that the river floods every so often when it rains in Mt Kenya forest even when the surrounding areas are bone dry.
    More so, the river floods vitually every day during the rainy season.
    I undertook to carry out a small study of flood water flow along Nanyuki river and could not believe the outcome!
    I studied the water flow in the river at a section that is about 5 metres wide. The water height from the river bed during the flood was not less than 1.5 metres. It was flowing at a speed of roughly 1 metre per second.
    The volume of flow therefore was;
    5M x 1.5M x 1M = 7.5M3 per second
    This is equal to 7.5 x 60 = 450M3 per minute. This translates to 450 x 60 = 27,000M3 per hour.
    For the five hours I dedicated to observe the flow, I calculated that the volume of water that had gone past was about 27,000M3 x 5 hours = 135,000M3.
    This massive amount of water virtually went to waste because there in no dam downstream to harness the flood water. I guess all of it went and disappeared into Lorian swamp in Wajir South, North Eastern province!
    What can we do with 135,000M3 of water?
    Walk with me through this scenario.
    One acre of land carries 35,600 maize plants.
    Under drip irrigation, one maize plant is given 200cm3 of water per day.
    This means that one acre of maize under drip irrigation would require 35,600 x 200 = 7,120,000cm3 of water per day.
    The best suited maize varieties for Laikipia East take about 3-4 months to grow. Assuming it would require four months of watering, the amount of water needed to irrigate one acre would be 7,120,000 x 120 days = 854,400,000cm3.
    1M3 of water = 1,000,000cm3 hence 854,400,000cm3 =854.4M3
    This means that 1 acre of maize needs 854.4M3 to grow to maturity under drip irrigation.
    Theoretically therefore 135,000M3 of water would irrigate 158. acres of maize ( 135,000 divided by 854.4) from planting to maturity!
    Lets extend the argument farther.
    The maize variety WH505, which matures in 4 months, yields 30 bags per acre. This is equal to 30 x 158acres = 4,740 bags.
    This is 4,740 bags of maize grown by water that flows in just 5 hours through a river we know!
    My argument and calculations may be stretched to the absolute limits, having made many assumptions along the way, but the point I’m trying to drive home is that there is so much water going to waste in our county rivers. If we get our act together and harness this water through constructing dams along rivers we can transform Laikipia to a net food exporter.
    It would only take bold and visionary leadership, A leadership that will look beyond the challenges and the costs of putting up the dams and appreciate the benefits that we and our children would enjoy for hundreds of years to come.
    Kariuki S. Wamae (Bsc Horticulrure) – Steros Investment, 0721 84 86 35 Nanyuki.

    July 17, 2019 at 1:29pm

    The Barongo Evergreen Farm Investments (BEFi) is a sustainable social enterprise conservation farming and agriculture start-up remedial solution to POVERTY and HUNGER project with humanitarian purposely made practical disability friendly participation opportunities for the traditionally long neglected and excluded from various social opportunities, the rural African people with disabilities to engage and participate in productive living alongside sustainable financial earning returns by one of them.
    I, a Tanzanian physically disabled (paralyzed legs and walks with a crutch) former college management graduate, who have worked with public and private entities for more than fifteen years, thereafter, exhausted by the disability unfriendly both psychological and physical structural environments at formal employee/employer working establishments, together with my spouse, we established a small-scale self-help farm by investing in land purchase, started planting/growing food/commercial now yielding fruit trees and miscellaneous crops, started on-going construction work of the farm house/poultry structures, to proceed with raising of same chickens (now keeping few for trials) for the market.
    We converted, formalized and innovated our initial self-help farm into the above mentioned social enterprise conservation farming, agriculture and market start-up project as we couldn’t help not to think of the survival pains that accompanies the rural African people with disabilities who can’t engage and participate productively on their own without humanitarian purposely made facilitating supports, more as we applaud global development initiatives that aim to leave none behind in POVERTY and HUNGER.
    Though lacking access means to productivity inputs and financing, we are enthusiastically eager and gradually, adapting to simple, affordable, improved, conservation farming, agriculture and markets, starting with the few colleagues of where the project is based, aiming to extend further and reach all Tanzania regions and beyond through collaboration or cooperation partnership approaches with other disability empowerment interested stakeholder parties and entities as we stabilizes, grows and expands.
    Please do you have social humanitarian facilitating programs through which we can learn, share, collaborate or access other advantages and funding for our social enterprise remedial farming and agriculture solution project? Please assist us.

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