Since independence, it has been hard for farmers to make wealth. Consequently, they are rarely motivated to invest more skill, time and money into their farms. I suggest that we help them to make green money from their farms so that they don’t spend a lifetime of farming only to enter into their sunset years broke and disillusioned.
The first help that we should give farmers is access to research information. They often use the wrong seed in the wrong soil and tend the resulting crop with the wrong fertiliser not to mention storage issues. The net result of such uninformed farming is increasingly poor yields that leave them impoverished and the country hungry.
Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta secured a Sh10 billion loan from the Indian government to support several fields of agriculture, including research.
One direct area that should benefit from such increased funding is in employment of additional agricultural extension workers across the country. Currently, the ratio of extension workers to farmers in Kenya is roughly 1 to between 3,000 and 5,000 farmers. This is far below the FAO recommended ratio of 1 to 400. In the developed world, this ratio is closer to 1 to 200.
We need to quadruple the extension workers in Kenya. Increased professional extension services will ensure agricultural research benefits farmers in a sustainable manner.
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Additionally, we must encourage more peer-to-peer learning programmes. A smaller group of farmers can be given comprehensive training and subsequently facilitated to pass on the same training to their peers. The Catholic Relief Services already operates such a programme and the same can be scaled up.
Nonetheless, for research to play an increasingly important role in smallholder farmers, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) should be one of the largest and best-funded institutions in the country. This can only happen in a sustainable way if Kenya implements the Maputo Declaration and invests 10 per cent of its national budgets to agriculture. Indeed, agriculture as a whole and agricultural research in particular is too important for us to continue leaving its funding to donors.
To complement KALRO’s work, we are blessed to have our universities and various globally renowned agricultural research institutions like the World Agroforestry Centre and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). These institutions conduct world-class research that can benefit farmers. The government must firmly join hands with them to ensure the research ends up transforming millions of smallholder farms from low to optimal yield. In this election year, agriculture should be a critical election issue that will make candidates win or lose seats. They must all tell the country how they will ensure that sustainable, research-backed agriculture will take root. Think green, act green!