Two significant events in the recent months have signalled Kenya’s refocus on development after a tumultuous electioneering.
President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled his flagship ‘Big Four’ agenda in December 2017 eyeing food security, housing, manufacturing and health.
The second event was the “handshake” between the President and Opposition politician Raila Odinga in March.
While detailed information on specific action points and timelines under each of the pillars of the Big 4 has been scanty, it does not stop someone from creating a “wish-list” that could guide the business of achieving these grand goals.
Agriculture contributes about 30 per cent of the country’s GDP, employing millions of Kenyans.
With an annual population growth rate of 2.6 per cent, scarce arable land and the devastating effects of climate change, we must have deep discourse about how we will feed a fast growing population. A country that cannot feed itself really cannot do much else.
How may we ensure food security for the long term prosperity of the country? Here are some ideas:
Improved access to inputs through appropriate technology: Often, “inputs” in agriculture is construed to mean fertiliser and pesticides, yet farmers need much more than that. We need to increase the span of ‘inputs’ to include items such as tillers, coolers, seeding machines, storage facilities and irrigation equipment.
One of the ways of improving access to these is to revive technology that is locally developed, using local techniques and materials and serves real needs of farmers.
Appropriate tech customises inputs to meet smallholder farmers’ needs and is cheaper than original technologies.
Partnerships with engineering universities and the jua kali industry can deliver these and reduce cost of inputs.
To significantly reduce post-harvest losses by improving storage, disused shipping containers can be converted to safe storage and deployed for shared use in smallholder agricultural communities. This model has worked in Philippines and Rwanda.
Increased focus on value addition: I recently noticed large manned stocks of mangoes and bananas by the roadside in Embu and Meru.
Many farmers do not get much value by selling produce such as bananas, coffee, mangoes, potatoes, rice, nuts and tomatoes in their primary form. The government in its food security plan should do to support value-addition.
Kitui County recently launched its first mango processing factory, serving thousands of mango farmers, and potentially pulling them out of poverty. In the tea industry, KTDA is processing orthodox teas as a value-addition strategy.
Agriculture education: Until recently, agriculture was a subject taught in Kenyan schools. If we are to ensure future food security, we have to start now by teaching the young ones how to produce.
The President’s plan should bring back agriculture to schools in a modernised form.
Growing the food basket: Kenya measures its level of food security by the bags of maize in its silos. Our strategic grain reserves (SGR) are often inadequate for our growing population and as a measure against famine.
Other than it being an ineffective indicator — man cannot live on maize alone — SGR ignores other foods.
Developing capacity to grow other foods will significantly increase food security.
Coupled with value-add measures, development of food industries such as fish, potatoes, rice, meat, pulses (like beans, lentils and beans), cassava and wheat should be considered in the President’s food security plan.
We can no longer rely solely on maize.
Egadwa Mudoga, tea sector worker.