Cape Breton University researches Kenya food security

A Cape Breton University professor has received funding to research how to get quality supplies to small-scale farmers in Kenya.

Farm Shop program aims to help small-scale farmers access proper seeds, fertilizer and tools

Kevin McKague (at back) is a Cape Breton University researcher who is part of a project to expand a farming supplies shop system in Kenya. Former CBU masters student Jill MacPherson (second from left) is the research project manager. Also pictured are George Kamau and Hellen Wamatiha. (Submitted by Jill MacPherson)

For decades, professors from Cape Breton University have worked in various African countries, and now one researcher is looking in-depth at the fruits of a project aimed at helping small-scale farmers. 

Kevin McKague has done research on the continent for close to 20 years, and his most recent work focuses on food security and an entrepreneurial project in Kenya.

Several years ago, it was recognized that small-scale Kenyan farmers (those farming a hectare or less), needed access to proper seeds, fertilizer and other tools and supplies critical to successful food gardening.

A business called Farm Shop was started, and there are 25 of them now across Kenya, each one supporting about 500 farmers. 

CBU, the lead Canadian partner on the project, has received $1.5 million in funding from the Canadian International Research Development Centre to conduct practical research.

"The question that we're looking at is really, 'What is the most effective social enterprise business approach to sustainably and effectively improve the lives of these small holder farmers?'" McKague said.

The aim is to grow the number of Farm Shops to 125 by 2017. (Courtesy, Jill MacPherson)

Farm Shop and the University of Nairobi are also involved. The aim is to expand Farm Shop's reach with another 125 shops by 2017.

CBU alumna Jill MacPherson wrote her masters thesis on food security and is the research project manager working with McKague. They travelled to Kenya in January to see the Farm Shop project in action.  

"We're able to see how farmers are going to be able to increase their food security," said MacPherson. "Knowing that our research is playing a part in that, to see how it can improve (their lives), was really special and important."

Improved lives

Eunice Wanjiku Chege, a Farm Shop customer. (courtesy, Jill MacPherson)

McKague describes one woman who uses the Farm Shop to get her farming supplies. 

"Before, she was only able to grow enough to feed herself and her family," said McKague. "But with some additional help and better seeds and fertilizers, she's able to not only feed her family, but sell some of that excess and earn more money that she can spend on her family."

MacPherson says 70 per cent of Kenyans work in agriculture, yet nearly 50 per cent are classified as "food insecure."

McKague says Farm Shop owners hope to expand from the 50 stores to 150 in the next few years, and possibly into other countries after that. 

He says CBU has funding to continue the research for another two years. 

Wendy Bergfeldt, Mainstreet


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