Columnists

Innovations key to food security as land size falls

agric

Agricultural reforms are a win-win socio-economic proposition that ultimately delivers food security, jobs and increased export dollars. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A while back, I spoke with one of the South African large-scale farmers on the sidelines of an international event in London. He shared a simple story. His children had all shunned farming and left it to him — until he introduced technology.

He harnessed technology on his machinery to sow, cultivate, operate the irrigation gear and harvest. He used drones to apply pesticides over the vast farm, saving time and rigour.

All centrally coordinated from his farm offices. One of his sons took interest and sought to be involved. Others followed suit. They later took over.

It was, therefore, curious to notice that the use of ineffective farming technology is cited as one of the reasons for low agricultural productivity in the study on land fragmentation by the National Land Commission discussed on this column recently.

The study reveals that the majority of respondents used hand-held tools such as jembes, pangas and sickle, among others, to till land. This is tough and unattractive. Like in the above case, our youth will shun it.

The study identifies land consolidation as one of the strategies that could be considered to augment land sizes to make them amenable to mechanisation. The use of existing regulatory organs such as land control boards to protect productive farm holdings from fragmentation into unviable sizes is another.

While minister for Lands, Amos Kimunya introduced a cap on agricultural land sizes in 2005. There was quick national uproar and he beat a retreat. The 2012 Land Act provided for the enactment of a law to cap maximum and minimum land sizes.

An attempt to do so in 2015 met with public resistance and government backed off. Ordinarily, governments are populist and loathe interventions likely to stir social or political resistance.

Therefore, given previous experiences, I don’t foresee successful government interventions to consolidate small land parcels or cap land sizes in Kenya.

Yet, pressure from the inheritance of ancestral land as generations change, and pressing domestic financial needs, will continue to drive the fragmentation of prime agricultural land.

It’s, therefore, time that our research institutions and universities, many nowadays rural-based, applied themselves to innovative research to ring-fence Kenya from the looming food-deficit within the reality of our reduced farm sizes.

They can guide communities on the optimal land use options in crop and livestock farming. They are well placed to innovate and introduce small-scale farm mechanisation to influence a shift from rudimentary farming tools.

This will also help to circumvent the increasing shortage and costs of farm labour, accelerated by urbanization.

Rooftop farming, kitchen gardening and hydroponics should be studied and, if found viable, introduced where suitable. In all these cases, the use of technology, including robotics, should be embraced. Modern farming would also attract our youth, and hence help to reduce unemployment.

I am sure manufacturers and technology-driven farm tools vendors would gladly provide suitable leasing or group sharing arrangements to scale up use and beat costs.