Alternative agriculture and rural development: A case study of sugar beet cultivation in Kenya

Abstract: Land use change has been observed to cause profound impacts on sustainability, particularly when the change is not well planned and co-coordinated. In Kenya the government is promoting diversification of crops to embrace high value crops and drought resistant crop varieties in efforts to reduce poverty in rural areas. Sugar beet is one of the crops considered as an option in this context. Adoption of new crops entails a land use change and hence potentially can affect the sustainability of the farming system if not rationally introduced. Therefore planning for rational shifts in crops cultivated is essential in promoting sustainable use of the natural and human resources. For this rational shift to take place a land evaluation is vital for assessing the potentials and constraints applying to different crops. The land evaluation should include the assessment of the physical and socio-economic potentials of the land. The aim of this thesis project was to assess the potentials and challenges for sugar beet cultivation in Kenya and its impacts on rural development and poverty reduction for the rural households. The outcome of the study indicated that there are prospects for sugar beet cultivation and adoption in the study area, the Nyandarua District in central Kenya. These prospects include not only physical land suitability – an adequate land area is suitable for sugar beet cultivation and a high sugar beet yield can be attained – but also socio-economic prospects, in the sense that farmers are aware of many positive properties of sugar beet cultivation and are willing to grow it. The analysis of sugar beet profitability indicated that if a local market with reasonable prices can be established, sugar beet can potentially increase and stabilize household net income. However some socio-economic factors, mainly the affordability of sugar beet production cost and the lack of appropriate farming technologies, may present challenges for widespread sugar beet introduction, particularly among farmers with low and medium incomes. The benefits of sugar beet cultivation, like that of any other crop with high start-up costs, are likely to be skewed towards the high income farmers. It is necessary for government and other stakeholders to intervene to ensure external support with affordable credit sources if sugar beet is to aid in pulling the many poor smallholder farmers out of poverty. Alternative agriculture with introduction of new crops is thus not a sufficient strategy to address problems of poverty and unemployment. Any successful strategy must be broad, including alternative agriculture and other growth and development strategies. Provision for the entire necessary infrastructure is vital for any successful implementation.

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