Promoting food security among smallholder coffee farmers in East Africa

Food security in East Africa has been further threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. This public-private partnership in Kenya and Ethiopia is bolstering food security by increasing local production and enhancing economic resilience through several interrelated approaches.

Food insecurity, a problem already existing in many developing countries, has been further compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing disruptions in domestic food supply chains and food security risks in many countries, as cited by a recent World Bank report. In yet another report, it states that over 27 million people in the greater region are food insecure and require humanitarian assistance, a 39% increase in food insecurity from 2016. The World Bank estimates that East Africa grows enough food to feed itself, but increased regional economic integration is necessary to enable staple foods to move from surplus to deficit areas to improve food security, especially during times of great stress such as drought and locust invasion.

Through programmes run by Solidaridad in East Africa, we are focused on smallholder farmers and improving their livelihoods from an economic and social perspective. Food and nutrition security has, therefore, been at the forefront of our sustainable livelihoods interventions within the region.

The Food Security through Improved resilience of Smallholder Coffee Farmers in Ethiopia and Kenya (FOSEK) project is a public-private partnership food security project, funded by the Dutch Government (FDOV) and implemented by Solidaridad alongside other consortium partners. The project seeks to improve food security in East Africa by increasing local agricultural production as well as enhance economic resilience and livelihood of smallholder coffee farmers in the region through several interrelated approaches.

Improving the quality and quantity of coffee yields

The FOSEK project is working with over 120,000 smallholder farmers to improve their capacity to produce high-yield and quality coffee through training on good agricultural practices, introduction of improved seedlings and nursery establishments, as well as improved quality management during processing. With improved yields and reduced post-harvest losses, smallholders reap higher returns from their investment.

Farmers are also helped to improve their resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change and other unforeseen challenges through the introduction of climate-smart technologies, crop diversification and animal husbandry.

Promoting intercropping of coffee with food crops

Charles Wanjau, coffee farmer from Mutheka Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Nyeri county, has successfully intercropped mango trees in his coffee farm.

Charles Wanjau, a coffee farmer from Nyeri county, is one of the beneficiary success stories of the FOSEK project. He acknowledges that he faced challenging times when he relied on coffee proceeds as his only source of income. However, since the introduction of mango trees on his farm, he now enjoys the benefits of crop diversification, which include a diversified diet at the household level, and extra income from the sale of surplus food crops at the local market.

The FOSEK project aims to improve food security by combining cash crop production with food crops.  These are crops that are adapted to local soils, climate and environmental conditions and enjoy a symbiotic relationship with coffee, for sale to local markets and for domestic consumption. Additionally, we promote food crop residue to be used as feed for livestock and the resulting manure, from these animals, is ploughed back for improved soil quality and crop production.

Strengthening farmer associations

Dairy farming is an important way for farmers to increase their incomes and improve their well-being. By enhancing dairy management systems for farmers and farmer associations, we are able to improve their business and financial systems to drive better incomes. FOSEK is developing dairy management systems for farmer associations to provide them with necessary infrastructure and management skills to adequately cater to farmers’ needs. 

As part of this intervention, FOSEK has installed milk cooling facilities in select cooperatives namely, Karithathi FCS in Kirinyaga county, Kangunu FCS in Muranga county and Kabunyeria FCS in Nandi county. The infrastructure will enable farmers to perform quality checks, enjoy aggregation benefits and participate in value addition. Through training and deliberate market linkage efforts, these farmers are able to access better markets from off-takers offering premium prices due to higher volumes and value addition translating to better farmers’ incomes.

To guarantee the stability and growth of these cooperatives, FOSEK is strengthening their management capacity through training in the areas of governance, financial literacy, marketing skills and leadership. As a result, the cooperatives have embraced transparency and earned the goodwill and support of their members.

A 5,000-litre milk cooling tank installed at Karithathi FCS – dairy hub.

 Enhancing household nutrition  security

At the household level, FOSEK seeks to enhance food and nutrition security through the establishment of kitchen gardens. Under the FOSEK project, farmer family nutrition is an initiative funded by Nestlé and coordinated by Coffee Management Services (CMS) with the support of Solidaridad. One of the objectives of the farmer family nutrition programme is to introduce farmers and their families to better nutrition and healthier lives through training on agri-nutrition and promoting balanced meals. Mary Gicuku, a member of Gakundu Farmers’ cooperative, Embu county, is among the beneficiaries who trained on family nutrition.

I am happy with the kitchen garden as I can now provide my family with nutritious and healthy meals throughout the year and also earn extra cash from the sale of vegetables,” – Mary Gicuku

Mary is grateful for the training and support she has received to establish a kitchen garden which is a reliable source of fresh vegetables for her family, especially during the market disruptions caused by the COVID 19 pandemic leading to market closures. By sourcing vegetables from her kitchen garden, Mary is saving approximately Ksh. 1,000 (EUR 8) per month and sells the surplus to her neighbours and the local market.

Mary Gicuku in her kitchen garden where she grows vegetables for her family all year round.

Read more about our work in Coffee.