Food security is mostly about access to land

A peasant farmer in western Kenya. Agricultural biotechnology is helping farmers grow food crops sustainably. file photo | nmg
A peasant farmer in western Kenya. Agricultural biotechnology is helping farmers grow food crops sustainably. file photo | nmg 

There are a number of sectors where investments should rarely go bust, underpinned by the near- constant unwavering demand presented by the market. Agriculture is one such sector that holds this promise. Yet we have failed to build a robust ecosystem that can ensure sustainable growth outside adhoc, often politically flavoured interventions to farmers and farmers groups. Sustainable here means profitable and scalable enterprise that equitably benefits all the players in the supply chain.

While a handful of local technology companies are taking a swipe at the sector, most are focused on the last mile: creating farm gate to marketplace linkages; some all the way to retail, finding better ways to finance farmers or preventing post-harvest losses, among other efforts. All are laudable initiatives, including those by non-governmental and foreign aid organisations.   

Our local universities have done a commendable job in agricultural biotechnology across both crop and animal science. A recce to the institutions will have you better appreciate the research minds that apply themselves locally when you look at the valuations and also possible stranglehold that multinational agtech companies have, hinged on intellectual property.

A look at census data reveals that we have a huge youth dividend. While it is great that we are pushing the information and services agenda, with many jumping on to the digital jobs bandwagon, we cannot escape the fact that even with mechanisation and automation, we can still mop up unemployment in the thousands annually in the field, centres of value addition and the larger supply chain.

We have three things going for us, the science, the labour and the tech, but one key asset remains locked. Land is a critical factor of production whether tilled or built upon. In a country where emotions are staked on soil, perhaps the silver bullet is to figure out access of government land based on models that would ensure maximisation of both resources and return.

The gaffes and perceived under performance of government-led programmes would be minimised as the research and due diligence by private sector that would drive resource maximisation will normalise things and attract requisite capital where and when needed.

In this light, the clamour for title deeds seems misplaced and government is well positioned to shift our collective mindset. Land is after all in the larger scheme of things more about access than ownership.

Mbugua Njihia is CEO of Symbiotic | | @mbuguanjihia