Expert encourages students to pursue careers in agriculture

Dr Mark Otieno, an agroecologist, lecturer and researcher at the University of Embu. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)
Dr Mark Otieno, an agroecologist, has urged students to ignore the notion that a career in agriculture is not a serious profession.

An agroecologist is a specialist who ensures that agriculture is managed in a way that does not harm the environment.

He says a majority of young people still view agriculture as a backbreaking, ‘dirty’ profession without good pay. The researcher says that the face of agriculture in Kenya is changing.

“Our youth lack role models so we can’t blame them. It is common to hear everyone wanting to focus on many other things but not anything related to agriculture. Yet all of us want to eat fresh and nutritious food.

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“In recent years, we have seen a shift in investment and today, if you invest in agriculture, you are more likely to succeed than if you invested in any other field,” Dr Otieno said during a career day held at the university recently.

Dr Otieno says Israel has emerged against all odds to be a food giant despite its small size and unfavourable geographical location.

“This nation was transformed by its own citizens who had great vision and passion for agriculture,” he says.

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The water scarce nation, according to Dr Otieno, achieved that through recycling almost 80 per cent of its wastewater from domestic use for use in irrigation. Israel also tapped salt water from the Mediterranean Sea and desalinated it for domestic use and irrigation.

The country also drilled water from the earth’s core.

“Right now, because of these technological advancements driven by great thinkers, Israel is one of the leading economies in the world. A small population of 13, 000 farmers is feeding more than eight million people. That is one farmer feeding 616 people daily.

“Dairy farmers have fully embraced technology making Israel a world leader in milk production. One cow during lactation period can produce up to 12,000 litres per year,” Dr Otieno says. 

“In Kenya, we are moving in the direction of smart farming or precision agriculture. Many organisations are now working to advance the adoption of smart farming.

“This is a concept that uses modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products.

“By precisely measuring variations within a field and adapting the strategy accordingly, farmers can greatly increase the effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizers, and use them more selectively,” he says.

Dr Otieno, whose PhD work contributed to the establishment of key farm management practices for pigeon peas (mbaazi) and field beans crops, advises students that they will be the ones contributing to some of “these exciting technologies” should they choose to work in agriculture.

To succeed in the field, however, he urges students to have the right attitude and focus.

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