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Use science to boost food security

By James Karanja | July 13th 2015

Food insecurity in our country is a reality all of us must accept. This calls for the creation of awareness on the urgent need for drastic changes in our agricultural production and food supply methods. Small-scale farmers play a pivotal role in feeding the nation as they account for not less than 80 per cent of all agricultural production.

Famine has ravaged parts of the country, specifically Baringo, Turkana and outlying areas for decades.

Despite all the blueprints and researches Government institutions have carried out, almost two million Kenyans face starvation today. While poor leadership takes part of the blame, lack of proper strategies to improve agricultural production, have worsened an already dire situation.

The Government must therefore encourage small scale farmers to move away from the traditional farming methods and embrace new crop technologies like drought tolerant crop varieties, which have a guarantee for better yields.

Agriculture is the way to go today. It is the biggest contributor to national development. It requires all the support the Government can give it to grow. In the two years that devolution has run, there are many aspects of life that have witnessed remarkable improvement but it is saddening to see that agriculture has not largely benefited.

County governments have put little resources into agriculture largely because other sectors take the lion's share of budgetary allocations.

There is very little that can be achieved without proper research. The Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation is engaged in research work that largely goes to waste because its avenues of reaching the farmer are constricted.

Most farmers have stuck to growing crop varieties that have not been improved by research, and or growing them in the wrong agro-ecological zones. In the end, the farmers make losses that could have been averted had, as in years gone, the Ministry of Agriculture's extension workers visited villages to ensure farmers got the right seed and information.

That department, which is now devolved to the counties, should be revitalised to give advice and assistance to farmers if the country aspires to be food-sufficient. It would be of great help if the Government subsidised seed and fertiliser too.

Another way of bettering food production is by improving infrastructure. Farmers in remote areas are discouraged from large-scale farming because they are aware their produce will never reach the market because of bad roads.

By co-opting institutions like the Agricultural Finance Corporation and banks to give farmers loans at discounted interest rates, this can go a long way in boosting agriculture. In the long run, this is cheaper than importing food to feed starving masses who, ironically, are living on rich agricultural land.

Showcasing produce and innovations at agricultural shows achieves little if the innovations don't go beyond displays. Agro-processing businesses should assist the Government while at the same time supporting the farmer by doing aggressive marketing so that more of the local innovations reach a wider market.

Counties should be encouraged to embrace the competitive advantage concept. Not all the counties have soil suitable to the growing the same crops, hence the need for them to identify what would grow best in their area. Maize, for instance, does very well in the Rift Valley and western Kenya while rice grows well in the coastal regions.

Indeed, there is a new variety of rice suitable to high temperature areas like Mombasa, Malindi, and Bura and around Lake Baringo.

Nothing beats agribusiness in improving the lives of many Kenyans.

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