On 16 October, we celebrate World Food Day which is an opportunity to recognise and support our food heroes - farmers and workers throughout the food system.
We honour those who are making sure that food makes its way from farm to fork even amid disruptions as unprecedented as the current COVID-19 crisis. On this occasion, we have taken the opportunity to speak to Yaron Cohen and Trevor Sherwin from Amiran, a farmer-led agricultural product distribution company based in Kenya.
Amiran has been helping farmers to farm sustainably since 1963. Can you tell me a little bit more about the organisation's focus?
It focuses on understanding the needs, challenges and opportunities faced by farmers and creates solutions to help farmers improve yield, meet market requirements for produce quality, reduce costs through more efficient use of inputs, and produce more from available land. It creates packages of agricultural inputs and equipment to effect these solutions.
Through a global network of market-leading manufacturers of agricultural products, Amiran can select the right products for the farmers’ needs in Kenya. The company’s extensive team of agronomists then provides training and support to farmers on how to make the best use of these innovations and achieve success. This approach is reflected in Amiran’s well-known slogan, “Our Knowledge, Your Success”.
Amiran is part of the UK headquartered Balton CP group of companies and has sister companies in 7 other African countries, each of them take a similar approach to tailoring agricultural products for local market needs and providing agronomic and technical support.
Amiran Kenya has recently launched Project Madaraka. Can you explain the goal of this initiative?
Project Madaraka is an initiative of Amiran to enable it to provide its full product range to farmers based on affordable and projected cash flow based terms. Combining Madaraka’s credit solution with Amiran’s market-leading products, market knowledge, and after-sales agronomy support, significantly improves the likelihood of crop success and consequently reduces the risk associated with agricultural financing.
The ultimate objective of Project Madaraka is to deploy credit capital to the customers of agricultural product-solution vendors such as Balton group; to drive rural prosperity in Africa by supporting farmers and agribusinesses to gain access to products and services that enable them to do more, faster and more efficiently whilst increasing climate resilience. In the medium term, the spin-out company will onboard other companies in the supply of agricultural products and services across Africa, to serve their end customers with vendor-driven credit solutions.
Given the range of uncertainties, it is exposed to, crop production is probably the riskiest enterprise human beings undertake for profit. By keeping the credit solution close to the product specialists in agriculture and using credit as an enabler for product vendor companies to grow with their customers, Project Madaraka intends to play a major role in enhancing productivity, increasing climate resilience and reducing food insecurity in Africa.
What is the profile of the farmers you work with?
Amiran works with all segments of the market, from smallholder farmers, to SME growers, to large scale agribusinesses. Amiran products suit farmers of any scale that are farming commercially on at least some of their land and are seeking to increase their yield and improve crop quality.
Over the past 50 years, Amiran has played a major role in the growth of the export horticulture sector in Kenya, currently working with most major export farms. Amiran also works with large scale broad acre farmers in cereals, tea, coffee, canola, avocado, macadamia and other tree/commodity crops, providing both input and irrigation solutions.
In the last 20 years, Amiran has been supporting smaller-scale farmers in Kenya with input solutions for small-scale farmers growing for both local and export markets. It has also introduced new concepts in small scale irrigated farming with standardised offerings under the Amiran Farmers Kit brand for customers seeking sub 1-acre open field irrigation and greenhouse solutions.
Today the company distributes seeds, crop nutrition, crop protection and irrigation components through hundreds of agro-dealers around the country supported by Amiran’s team of field agronomists; as well as providing a range of standardised and custom irrigation project solutions to farmers through direct sales from the company’s Nairobi HQ.
Can you give an idea of the scale of the Agriculture sector in Kenya?
Amiran’s field agronomists situated across all the productive growing regions in Kenya focus on the key crops grown within each region, reflecting the broad-ranging potential of the sector. Being on the equator, Kenya has an extremely diverse range of agricultural crop production due to the varying altitudes, climatic and growing conditions, from the Kenyan coast (e.g.. fruit, nuts) to Mt. Kenya (horticulture, cereals), and to the highland areas of the western rift valley (tea, coffee).
The sector has room to more than double its production based on improved existing, as well as new potential, farmland usage. There are huge opportunities for new crop development as the country generally has ideal growing conditions. However, achieving potential yield requires the correct methods, equipment and inputs. This creates a major gap that Amiran seeks to fill to ensure successful and sustainable agriculture leading to future food security and climate resilience.
How has climate change been impacting your customers? And what can your products do to help them?
Pests and adverse climatic conditions remain a serious concern for open field crops. Amiran has greenhouse solutions allowing the farmers to keep their crops under protective covers and fully control the micro-climate under which they are grown. Amiran also has irrigation solutions that ensure not only the proper and efficient use of scarce water resources but also allowing for more efficient use of agricultural inputs.
The ultimate and most efficient solution for irrigating farms is drip irrigation. This allows the farmer the control to feed small amounts of water on demand according to the requirement of the crop grown, keeping the soil moist, and allowing for targeted nutrition through the drip directly to the plant roots. This method also reduces the costs of crop protection as the foliage remains relatively drier, and therefore less prone to disease.
Not all farms have the water infrastructure set up to allow them to transition to drip irrigation in one step. Furthermore, depending on the farm setup and crop, some farms may achieve optimal results with other forms of irrigation. Therefore, our irrigation product range allows farmers to select from the full range of irrigation methods, and progressively increase the sophistication of their irrigation system as they grow and in accordance with their requirements. Other irrigation products include solutions for improving water management in furrow irrigation, and overhead forms such as sprinklers and centre pivots.
Amiran distributes a wide variety of seeds selected from world-leading manufacturers, specifically for the climatic conditions our growers are working in. For example, we selected hybrid tomato seeds varieties based on their resilience to bacterial wilt, which is commonplace in Kenya and cannot be treated with traditional crop protection solutions.
For both open field and greenhouse production, storm and pest related damage is an ongoing issue. To complement our offering to our customers, we are looking to partner with insurance solutions providers that protect farmers from climate-related risks. In so doing we will be able to help them transform some of the unquantifiable uncertainties of farming into manageable risks.
What impact has the current COVID-19 19 crisis had on the farming communities? Has there been an impact on farmer's distributions systems and how is this managed?
The primary impact of COVID-19 has been in the supply chain for farm produce. The closure of schools, bars, restaurants, and the impact of international travel on tourism has significantly reduced the demand for fresh produce in these sectors. These shifts in demand - in terms of where produce is consumed and by who - has meant that some farmers have had to find new routes to markets for produce or indeed change the value chain in which they are working. As a result, they may have lost a growing season of revenue, and the subsequent supply glut has now resulted in depressed prices of certain products in the local market (such as onions, cabbages and tomatoes). However, this impact should be temporary, and we expect the market to normalise, as farmers adjust their production to meet shifting and rising demand patterns with the re-opening of the economy.
What do you think can be done to further improve the sustainability of the food systems in Kenya?
Heavy investment in sustainably managed water storage and related infrastructure that can deliver clean pressurised water to every farmer seeking to grow beyond rain-fed agriculture, would be transformational for sustainable food production in Kenya. Indeed, given the productive potential of the country, this could greatly contribute to future global food security.
Alongside access to sustainably managed water resources, farmers need innovative and technologically advanced inputs and equipment appropriate for their farms, together with agronomic advice and after-sales service. These farming solutions also need to be packaged in such a way that is comprehensive and farmer-centric, often with credit included, allowing the farmer to pay for the productivity-improving solutions over time, out of the additional income that those products and solutions would generate. Project Madaraka is part of Amrian’s offering to meet Kenyan farmers’ needs.