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Go beyond fertiliser subsidy to boost food security

 Besides food production challenges, farmers face disrupted food supply chains and shaky or lost markets. [iStockphoto]

Political goodwill from President William Ruto in the fight against food insecurity is commendable.

His dedication to empowering farmers by offering them fertiliser subsidies is welcome. However, the crisis at hand is complex, and a simplistic approach, like merely making the soils fertile, might be an exercise in futility.

Besides food production challenges, farmers face disrupted food supply chains and shaky or lost markets. To fix this crisis, multi-pronged interventions are required. These include the promotion of climate-smart agriculture, crop diversification, and better land management.

All these must be reinforced with, among others, research and up-to-date climate information, effective pest management, and agricultural extension services. The government must look at the bigger picture and triple its current mitigation efforts in all its approaches. Let's face it, rain-fed agriculture is increasingly becoming erratic.

To guard against this, the government must set up more dams to encourage irrigation and ensure seamless food production. While at it, there must be deliberate efforts to promote clean, renewable energy in the production, transportation, storage, and even cooking of food. To this end, we must encourage use of solar or wind-powered water pumps.

Unlike in the past when farmers would peer at the sky and predict the timing and amount of rain, the weather is very unpredictable nowadays. Therefore, as we invest in drought-tolerant seeds, we must pay attention to up-to-date climate information and, where necessary, get weather-based insurance to guard against losses.

As an agriculture-based economy, the government must put in place attractive policies and endeavour to invest in the generation of necessary data, especially regarding what grows well where and solutions to common challenges, to inform commercial investors.

Multiple reports indicate that approximately 20 per cent of Kenya's cereals (maize and rice) get lost post-harvest. Approximately 50 per cent of fruits do not make it to the market due to their perishability.

As for roots and tubers, the estimates stand at 40 per cent. Put differently, reducing post-harvest losses is a way of boosting food security. The solution should start with mechanising harvesting and modernising storage facilities.

Like most arid and semi-arid countries, we should endeavour to expand the spaces dedicated to commercial agriculture, develop irrigated agriculture and go heavy on yield-enhancing inputs.

Farmers must also be exposed to up-to-date information regarding market opportunities and alternatives. Besides directly empowering individual farmers, there is a need to foster mega collaborations across various sub-sectors in the production and value chain.

Recently, Kenyans discovered that a popular franchise of fast food restaurants imports potatoes, chicken, and even spices all the way from Europe in their endeavor "to maintain standards." We must, for instance, encourage purchase agreements between farmers and major food buyers.

-Mr Malesi is a consulting editor

[email protected]

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