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Harness frontier technology, innovation for the Big 4 agenda

If our food sources should be sustainable and
If our food sources should be sustainable and affordable we cannot afford to avoid biotechnology. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Big 4 agenda as a development blueprint has been the buzz word for about two years. This is a five year plan that aims to fast track Kenya’s development and the realisation of the Vision 2030.

The gist of the agenda is raising contribution from manufacturing from the current 8.5 percent to 15 percent, putting up 500,000 new houses, ensure 100percent universal health coverage and 100percent food and nutritional security for all Kenyans.

In the current era of fourth industrial revolution (FIR) where disruptive frontier technologies are turning the traditional industries upside down, large-scale deployment of these technologies are critical for the achievement of these development agenda.

Going by the traditional linear industrialisation model, Africa being a continent with a very youthful population will benefit from demographic dividend and hence labour intensive manufacturing will come to Africa as cost of labour goes up with ageing workforce in Asian countries.

But with disruptive technology such as robotics and additive manufacturing, this may not happen, as robots can be deployed to mass manufacturing at a fraction of cost provided by man power in Africa.

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Also, going by the current trajectory most countries which exports labour intensive manufactured products may lose their competitive edge as importing countries with help of technology can manufacture at a much lower cost.

Without doubt FIR creates a timely opportunity for early adapters and digital natives. These offers a leapfrogging watershed moment for developing economies to position themselves and stay ahead of the pack in prosperity-sustaining value chains without having to re-invent the wheel of replicating the linear model of industrialisation.

Food security is important not only as a human right but also to ensure the stability of a country. However, with fast population growth, diminishing arable land and rainfall variability occasioned by changing climate, over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture will not mitigate challenges of food scarcity in Kenya.

Traditional irrigation may appear as a plausible option, but still with many rivers drying up and the over abstraction of the ground water resources, this may still not be a solution in the long run.

If our food sources should be sustainable and affordable we cannot afford to avoid biotechnology.

Biotechnology will improve yield, pest resistance, convert arid and semi-arid land to food baskets, improve nutritional value of food crops and reduce crop maturity significantly. Biotechnology may have to be supported by information technology to ensure that farmers get value for their effort and post harvest loss is minimised.

Due to lack of market information, sometimes farmers get ripped off by middle men while consumers at the same time pay premium for the same food. Simple mobile apps can be used by farmers to track weather patterns and for market intelligence that will empower them and reduce exploitation by middlemen.

The writer is a science, technology and innovation policy expert.

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