Reviving a federation during a pandemic

by Jan Pusdrowski

Realigning or restructuring business structures and federations is never easy, but during a pandemic it seems a Herculean task. The Kenya National Farmers' Federation (KENAFF) had major milestones to achieve in 2020, but then Corona came along. Against all the odds, KENAFF proved last year how agile and determined they are.
General Assembly
KENAFF's General Assembly

The Kenya National Farmers’ Federation has been undergoing a restructuring process in recent years. Given the importance of the agricultural sector in Kenya, KENAFF is a decisive player in the country’s socio-economic transformation and development, as aspired to in the objectives of key Kenyan and international strategies for agriculture. Above all, the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS, 2019-2028) and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a critical role here.

Unfortunately, however, in recent years KENAFF’s mission, operational effectiveness, and strategic outlook have encountered severe difficulties due to internal and external pressure. As a result, the federation’s ability to articulate, promote, and protect the interests of its members has faced so many challenges that it has been ineffective at best and has not acknowledged members’ goals at worst.

KENAFF forced to act

In Kenya’s decentralised political system, agriculture is a decentralised responsibility in each of its 47 counties. This means that county governments are now responsible for agricultural development. It then follows that KENAFF county federations should be the operational hubs of the federation. In the course of this sharing of responsibilities, a major part of the tasks must be purposefully divided between KENAFF headquarters in Nairobi and county federations. The Andreas Hermes Akademie (AHA) is working together with KENAFF to address this challenge and the aforementioned problems. After an initial pilot phase to accompany the restructuring process of the county federations (in Kakamega County since 2016), the AHA is now active in 12 counties together with KENAFF.

KENAFF has set December 2022 as its own deadline by which all KENAFF county federations should be decentralized and running their own businesses without existential dependencies on KENAFF headquarters. However, due to the federation’s financial difficulties over the past 5-6 years, it has not been possible to hold Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in accordance with KENAFF’s statutes. As a result, the indispensable need for rejuvenation and revitalization that organizations must experience from time to time through leadership change has not happened at KENAFF for a long time. It has therefore been increasingly difficult for KENAFF to develop new ideas and make important decisions, although this would have been necessary.

In addition to the AGM, KENAFF had also planned to hold a national farmers’ assembly to confirm its new strategy as well as holding elections at all levels. When these 2019 milestones were planned, there was no mention of COVID-19. Even at the beginning of the year, the African continent was still largely untouched by the pandemic and its effects. Following the National Farmers’ Assembly in January, KENAFF became involved in planning and preparing the March 2020 elections. Elections were to start at the ward level, where individual farmers directly elect their representatives. But in May, COVID-19 increasingly restricted public life in Kenya as well, and KENAFF had to suspend elections in the individual counties. By this point, all wards in 28 counties had successfully completed their elections.

KENAFF CEO Dr. Daniel Mwendah M'Mailutha at AGM

Reactions to Corona

During the pandemic, rapid action was required and – instead of sitting idle and waiting – KENAFF very quickly put in place a comprehensive plan to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The plan did not only convince KENAFF members! Some aspects were so interesting for the AHA’s work with KENAFF that it was agreed to support these points with federal and EU/IFAD funding. Among others, these include:

  1. Developing a system for dissemination of information via SMS (USSD) as a service for KENAFF members – more information can be found here
  2. Initiatives to promote the market
  3. Broadcasting information on the market and on hygiene via local radio

Overall, KENAFF’s approach was far more comprehensive and covered numerous other points. Overall, these measures led to a significant surge in KENAFF’s popularity and the federation now found itself in newspapers and on television shows and the radio. The reaction of the federation showed the role played by KENAFF to support farmers in Kenya. With the pandemic subsiding in late summer, elections resumed at the end of September and were successfully concluded in October.

With the successful completion of the elections and with the new county chairpersons in place, the time was right for KENAFF to convene its Annual General Meeting. With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), KENAFF was able to schedule the AGM for December 2020 and hold an additional congress for young farmers and rural women. The three events were a success for the organization. At the Annual General Meeting, new directors were elected to KENAFF’s board and, thanks to the associated change in leadership, an important milestone was thereby reached. Therefore, everyone is optimistic and happy that KENAFF has achieved a resounding turnaround towards rejuvenation, recovery and growth.

Bee hives in Taita Taveta
Bee hives in Taita Taveta

The voice of farmers – Sauti Ya Mkulima

KENAFF has shown that federations must remain responsive even in difficult phases of their own restructuring. In addition, KENAFF’s response to COVID-19 generated a strong response from the rural population, as evidenced by exponential growth in membership numbers. The Corona pandemic created “a desire for cohesion” in local and rural communities. This could also be a relevant factor in KENAFF’s success. The Andreas Hermes Akademie, the Kenyan National Farmers’ Federation and KENAFF members, as well as other partners throughout the country, are thrilled. Not only by the AGM results, but also by KENAFF’s many achievements, large and small, this year. In the years to come, 2020 will surely be remembered as the beginning of the journey that will truly make KENAFF the voice of farmers in Kenya. The AHA is delighted to be able to accompany KENAFF along this path.

KENAFF's General Assembly
KENAFF's General Assembly

The Author

Jan Pusdrowski

Regional Coordinator East Africa