Politics and policy

Chinese keen on farming venture in Kenya’s arid areas

Irrigation farming along Tana River. Kenya has launched a Sh250 billion irrigation project in Tana River County to cushion citizens against food shortage. FILE
Irrigation farming along Tana River. Kenya has launched a Sh250 billion irrigation project in Tana River County to cushion citizens against food shortage. FILE 

A Chinese delegation will visit Kenya next month to establish the viability of irrigation farming in arid lands including Kajiado, Narok and Turkana.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) said the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development (Casted) delegation had expressed interest in modern farming.

“The academy officials have confirmed their visit early next month. The delegation will include plant breeders, agronomists, soil scientists and water management experts,” KNCCI vice chairman Laban Onditi said.

This opens a new corridor in China’s engagement with Kenya outside physical projects such as civil works, rail and housing.

Mr Onditi said Casted will be looking to develop technologies — high yield seed varieties and irrigation systems — to match the needs of each identified area.

If the talks succeed, Chinese officials will proceed with feasibility studies including carrying out tests on soil samples before commencement of the project.

China is known for its botanical gardens where institutions carry out scientific research in food production. Only seven per cent of the Asian nation’s land is arable but it produces food for 20 per cent of the world’s population or about 1.4 billion people.

The crops include rice, wheat, potatoes, sorghum, barley, pork and fish.

In 2011, Kenya’s agricultural land was estimated at 48 per cent of total land area, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), but the country has perennially faced shortfalls.

READ: One-million-acre irrigation project to be launched in January

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) will be part of the mix and will help in developing seed varieties with better yields through need-based research.

KNCCI is expected to sign a partnership deal with Jkuat in the next two weeks that would see skill transfer between the two nations.

Boost food supply

The deal is aimed at producing required innovation and converting research findings into policy action in efforts to boost food supply.

Asked on the matter Mr Nelson Mutwa, a Jkuat Department of Food Science and Technology official, said: “I am positive about the idea and welcome any collaborators to work with us towards achieving Kenya’s food security.”

There have been concerns that most research findings by academic institutions have not been implemented by related State agencies, resulting in little breakthrough in food production.

It comes at a time when the State has launched a Sh250 billion irrigation project in Tana River County to cushion the country against food shortage.