Student - March 15, 2007

Kenyan traders do not exploit farmers

Since the liberalisation of its agricultural market, Kenya has more traders. Contrary to what many people think however, they are not exploiting the farmers. Most Kenyans are benefiting from liberalisation, except the small farmers, concludes development economist Dr Lawrence Mose in his PhD thesis.

Until 1994, a Kenyan farmer who wanted to buy artificial fertilizer or sell his maize had to do so through the government. But since the market has been partly liberalised there is now room for private maize and fertilizer traders. Mose examined who the winners and losers are. ‘It is partial liberalisation,’ stresses Mose, who is from Kenya, ‘The government still plays a role.’ The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is still one of the parties that buys maize from farmers, and the government still regulates maize imports.
The number of private traders has increased considerably, however. Mose discovered during his research in north-western Kenya that the increase has been enough to create competition between the traders. ‘So farmers are not dependent on one trader, and the traders are not in a position to exploit the farmers either,’ says Mose. This is an important conclusion, as traders in rural Africa are regarded as exploitative.
But there is still inequality. Large farmers and traders profit more from liberalisation than smaller ones. One reason is that they have better cars and can therefore transport their produce faster to market. More importantly, access to information is unequal. Large traders and farmers are better informed about product prices, either through the newspaper or radio. But not everyone can read a newspaper or has a radio.
Fertilizer has become more widely available as a result of liberalisation, because traders reach even the most faraway places. But in remote areas the price is high and the smallest farmers do not know how to use it. A small group of the poorest farmers has reverted to subsistence agriculture as a result of the liberalisation, concludes Mose. Nevertheless, the majority has benefited from market liberalisation and total food production in the area has increased. / Joris Tielens

Dr Lawrence Obae Mose received his PhD on 14 March. His supervisor was Professor Arie Kuyvenhoven, chair of Development Economics.

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