Early this month, an annual event that Kenyans are accustomed to came and passed. But unlike years ago, in recent times the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) organised Nairobi International Trade Fair came and passed with only a few Kenyans even noticing.
Apart from the organisers, the exhibitors and school children, few other Kenyans noticed the trade fair that is simply known as ‘The Show’ was on.
While the fair is supposed to be an important event in the socio-economic development of the country, it was ironical that Nairobians could only remember about the event due to its inconveniences it brings to them, like traffic gridlocks along Ngong Road and water shortage in city estates, as water gets diverted to Jamhuri Park.
That the ASK Nairobi Trade Fair has lost its allure is with no doubt. Compared to the 1980s and 90s when the event was akin to a holy ritual that every Kenyan had to participate, today it is a pale shadow that only attracts a handful of exhibitor and attendees.
When it was conceived in the beginning of the last century, in 1901 to be precise, the ASK show had specific objectives of promoting agricultural development in the country.
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For years it lived to its objectives because it was only at the show where farmers could learn of modern agricultural innovations and technologies to increase yields and production.
Indeed, show-goers would marvel at high breed cows like Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey with udders the size of a bucket, know how to produce energy from biogas among other things.
Though these technologies were appropriate back then, failure by the ASK to align the fair with the changing times has translated to the event becoming a mere hawking ground.
The event has completely lost its significance and has become a big market for hawking of Chinese and other foreign mass-produced items while parastatals reluctantly book stands and send junior officers to man them just to avoid reprimanding by the government considering that President Kibaki is the patron.
While the trade fair might be dear to the President, considering that since he ascended to the highest office on the land in 2003 he has religiously presided over the opening ceremony, the truth of the matter is that unless something is done urgently, the Nairobi Trade Fair is tottering on the brink of becoming irrelevant like its networks in other parts of the country.
For the few Kenyans who visited the event this past week, it was evident that ASK, the body mandated to oversee and market the event, is in a deep slumber and lacks ideas on how to make the event worthwhile.
While this year’s event was anchored on the theme of Enhancing Technology and Industry for Food Security and National Growth, there was little to propel the country towards this direction.
Technically, the trade fair is supposed to be an occasion to showcase new trends in the agricultural sector, new innovations by industries and latest technologies that are relevant is pushing economic growth.
Indeed this should be an event that local companies, entrepreneurs and institutions of high learning should be looking forward to in order to showcase their new innovations.
It should also be an event that foreign companies and investors should be scrambling to exhibit their products and services besides creating linkages with local firms, something that is critical in job creation.
But because the Nairobi Fair has failed in evolving with the changing times, companies are seeking for alternative channels to market themselves, something that explains the rising popularity in trade fairs regularly being held at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre like the just-concluded 16th Kenya International Trade Exhibition 2012.
While it is not too late to avoid the unavoidable death of the Nairobi Fair if things continue on the current path, the onus of bringing back the allure of ‘The Show’ lies squarely on the ASK.
The ASK management lead by chief executive Betram Muthoka must wake up from their deep slumber.