Experts: What Kenya must do to achieve food security

Value addition, adoption of latest technology and increasing land under irrigation are some of the key measures experts say will enhance food security in Kenya if adopted.

The experts who spoke ahead of the Transform Kenya Forum, aired live on KTN News from Strathmore University in Nairobi, also want the Government to devise ways of tackling effects of climate change to increase food production.

They also cited the cost of farm inputs, lack of markets and storage facilities for farm produce as other major hindrance to efforts to ensure Kenya is food secure.

Yesterday, the experts called on the Government to also ensure agriculture becomes attractive to youths, by ensuring availability of funds, provision of extension services and adoption of indigenous crops.

They also want university syllabus on agriculture reviewed and public-private partnerships encouraged.

Increase funding

Prof Mary Abukutsa, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) called on Government to increase funding to universities.

“Researchers should then disseminate the knowledge they develop in laboratories so the end users can use it to increase production,” Abukutsa, a panellist, said.

She also called on farmers to diversify the crops they grow, ‘so there is plenty for all to eat’.

“There are many indigenous crops in Kenya such as potatoes, sorghum and millet as well as vegetables. As we plant maize, let us also encourage farmers to plant these crops,” Prof Abukutsa said.

She called on the Government to invest in irrigation, post-harvest storage, marketing and proper harvesting methods that lessen wastage.

“Rain has become unpredictable due to climate change and so, we should find a way around it which is irrigation. We also need practical solutions on distribution so that abundant potatoes and milk in Nyandarua do not go to waste,” Abukutsa said.

Transform Kenya initiative seeks to influence new ways of doing things by giving as many Kenyans as possible an opportunity to contribute to debate on national development.

The Standard Group amplifies the conversation on a wide range of selected topics through its print, radio, TV and online platforms.

The forum comes a week after the World Food Day was celebrated October 16.

Gabriel Rugalema, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) country representative, said Kenya can feed her people if resources are availed to do value addition and facilitate access to markets.

“Our data shows two million Kenyans are food insecure. Government needs to provide cash to the elderly, urban and rural poor and the unemployed so that they can be able to buy food,” Rugalema, who was also a panelist said.

He stressed the need for value addition saying it will increase farmers’ earnings while creating jobs.

“Kenyans should not export raw materials such as avocados, tea, coffee and maize. Instead, let us avail resources so that these are transformed into other products. Here, a cup of coffee costs Sh50. We export it raw and after processing, it fetches about Sh500 out there,” Rugalema said.

He added: “For coffee, washing, sorting, roasting, milling and packaging will create jobs for Kenyans, the same way producing vegetable oil, industrial starch, medicine and ethanol from maize will earn farmers more money as opposed to exporting raw maize.”

Another panellist, Prof Margaret Jesang Hutchison, from University of Nairobi’s College of Agriculture and Veterinary Services said farmers must be supported to produce more.

Affordable technology

“We are carrying out research and capacity building for farmers. We want to come up with good quality seeds for and innovative, affordable technology to boost soil and deal with pests and ensure there is no post-harvest losses,” she said.

She wants Government to end corruption which she said is killing farming, and ensure proper storage.

“If we reduce post-harvest losses, which currently stand at 50 per cent, farmers will earn more. Let us use affordable storage facilities such as hermetic bags to reduce the losses,” said the don.

Hutchison said women, who form the bulk of those who work on farms, should be helped to get out of poverty so they can continue production.

Okisegere Ojepat, a food expert, wants Government to lower cost of farm inputs and allow the private sector run irrigation schemes for maximum production.

“Fertiliser, seeds and agrochemicals still attract 16 per cent VAT in addition to the 8 per cent VAT on petrol products. This is not economical, that is why many farmers are quitting,” Ojepat said.

Kikonde Mwatela, the chief operating officer of Twiga Foods, said called for increased investments in agriculture.

“We need to develop local standards to determine what is good for consumption. We also need to link demand to supply and bring together small-scale producers, build their capacity to view farming as a long term investment where prices are stable so that they are not taken advantage by brokers,” Mwatela said.

Dr James Murombedzi, the head of Africa Climate Policy Centre, singled out climate change as a major threat to food security. “The effects of global warming are greater that we anticipated,  particularly in developing countries.”

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Transform Kenya Forumfood securityValue additionfood productionWorld Food Day