The first thing that comes to mind for most people at the mention of agriculture is normally a farmer in a maize plantation or perhaps a few dairy cows as a good retirement plan.
This is not a surprise considering the Ministry of Agriculture puts the average age of Kenyan farmers at 60 years. The truth is agriculture is as broad as Heaven’s expanse and should not be confined to the box of a good retirement plan or limited only to those willing and interested in getting their hands dirty.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agriculture sector was contributing to between 26 per cent to 30 per cent of Kenya’s GDP. The President’s Big 4 agenda features food security which is heavily dependent on the performance of the agriculture sector. Life as we know may not go back to normal soon.
COVID-19 has affected various sectors differently. While the ICT sector seems to be thriving, tourism, sports, and entertainment have taken a big hit. What then are the lessons those in the agriculture sector can learn from this pandemic to improve overall agriculture sector performance?
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Digital platforms and various technologies have boosted the agriculture sector significantly during this period. Amanda Namayi, Youth Advocate for ZeroHunger and CovidFoodFuture Contributor noted that following the restriction of movement into Nairobi and Mombasa counties, some farmers experienced challenges accessing their regular markets.
These farmers quickly adapted to the new normal by using online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook to sell their products. Once products, quantities, and the cost was agreed on deliveries would be made straight to the consumers’ doorstep.
Overall, the use of digital platforms has increased our food safety standards by reducing the number of people who handle the food before it reaches the consumer. Additionally, it has locked out middlemen who have been known to exploit farmers.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some dairy cooperatives had begun piloting milk accountability and traceability system. This system would allow the dairy farmer to know the quantity of milk accepted without necessarily being present at the collection center during weighing.
The milk weighing scales produce a receipt for the cooperative and sends a text message to the farmer’s mobile phone. In the era of social distancing, this system is ideal in limiting the number of people at the collection centres at any given time.
The Ministry of Agriculture’s 2019 – 2029 Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy, has three anchors; the second being increasing agricultural output and value addition.
The Food and Agriculture Organization cites value addition as a way of increasing sales by creating product variety, making use of excess produce, and even creating opportunities for other sectors to generate income from crop and animal products. We don’t all have to sell milk, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Some could produce flavoured yoghurt, cheese, tomato sauce, and potato crisps with their target group being children. Our capacity to store surplus can also be improved by converting excess milk to powder or storing excess potatoes in a cold storage facility.
Access to quality inputs with Kenya is another area for consideration. The Kenyan airspace was closed for over 3 months. This meant that imports of agricultural inputs such as milk aluminium cans, milking machinery, certain veterinary drugs, supplements, and vaccines were not available and local stocks quickly ran out. If the textile industry was able to step in to produce personal protective equipment (PPEs), then the manufacturing sector can also step in to produce quality agricultural inputs.
Furthermore, investing more in local research can boost the capacity of existing institutions to produce veterinary drugs and vaccines. The researchers also need to be intentional in disseminating their research findings to the farmers on the ground and be open to learning what traditional practices can be integrated with those findings to ensure farmer adoption.
“Improving the agriculture sector cannot be done in a one size fits all approach. Each component of the sector whether potato, rice, poultry, or milk production needs key sector players to identify specific gaps within the respective value chains,” Ms. Namayi.
By finding local solutions for shortcomings in the value chains and embracing technology and innovation, Kenya’s agriculture sector will be a step closer to achieving food security and nutrition as set in the Big 4 agenda.
The writer is Veterinary Officer/Project Manager,KENDAT