Equip farmers with information to step up food security

An unprecedented population boom which will translate into more mouths to feed is predicted to put a serious strain on food production in 20 years to come, researchers warn.

Old threats and emerging ones like the voracious pests, and diseases Fall Arymworm and Tuta Absoluta coupled with weather changes have made farming a tough undertaking. Yet people must be fed. The United Nations Development Programme posits that Sub Saharan African countries are poised to have the largest population moving forward.

In Kenya for example, it is estimated that the population is set to grow at one million every year, reaching 85 million by the year 2050. There will be more mouths to feed but at the same time dwindling land and yields. But an even bigger threat to food production is farmers buffeted by all these problems and growing food from a point of no information.

Lack of extension officers who traditionally were a great information source for many smallholder farmers has further complicated matters at a time when knowledge based farming matters more than ever. Farmers have expressed insatiable appetite for this information, aware that they need to change their way of doing things to boost farm productivity.

Young people in rural areas who have inherited medieval farming practices from their parents, tired of nonproductive crop cultivation are dumping their tools and heading to the already clogged and over populated cities.

They end up being worse than they were as jobs remain scarce and these cities bear the brunt of intermittent food price spikes. To survive in the unforgiving environment, they have turned to crime and other social ills. Yet agriculture still offers numerous low hanging fruits for these young people. The onus therefore is on industry players to enhance and improve the value chain, entice the youth into profitable farming and lead by example.

But equally important is the need to walk with our food producers at these tough times in encouraging them at this noble pursuit.

With small holder farmers accounting for over 70 per cent of all food produced in the country and with more than 80 per cent of especially rural population earning their livelihood from farming a rededication and commitment to the sector should never be a second option.

The annual farmers’ awards scheme, a collaborative venture between Elgon Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture, now in its sixth year has been championing the need to celebrate ordinary farmers surmounting odds to create extraordinary farming empires. This, while championing debate on new and innovative ways of food production. While the awards continue to create soil celebrities, they have also created a unique farming revolution where farmers are learning from and inspiring each other. 

At the heart of this revolution has been former winners of the awards who are being used to inspire more farmers and especially youth into farming. Having become celebrities in their areas, farmers have built a lot of trust in them. They listen to them more. They practice what the winners tell them. Kenya’s resolve to become food sufficient is already winning, with more farmers now farming from a point of information as peer training among farmers continue offering key lessons on information dissemination.

It is encouraging to see the government stepping up its resolve to ensure Kenya becomes a land of plenty capable of exporting the surplus. It is not rocket science to attain this. Political will paired with an aggressive public private partnership model will not only feed the entire population but will open up the country to numerous agriculture related job opportunities for our people. To quote a World Bank report: “Over 70 per cent of employment in most African countries comes from agriculture, so you can argue that in Africa agriculture and economy are synonymous. In effect, you cannot modernise the economy in Africa without starting with agriculture.”

-The writer is the communications manager at Elgon Kenya