Farming can be cool again
It’s very easy to name and list Earth’s endangered species from cheetah, to Rhinoceros, Rothschild gira e, elephant and hirola antelope.
What if the same question was asked in a different way? What are the most endangered professions? Most observers will quickly add any profession that can be automated particularly those in manufacturing and threatened by the 4th industrial revolution.
But less talked about is farming. It’s one of the endangered professions. The suggested average age of a farmer in Kenya is over 60 years. It’s unlikely that top KCPE or KCSE performers will abandon neurosurgery for farming soon.
Why is farming endangered when we eat every day? Why when land equalizes us all either through food crops or our final resting place after our time on this planet is over. Rich or poor, we all eat and our digestive systems are the same.
Why has farming never become cool? We need to qualify this question. Farming becomes cooler as we go up the supply chain or is it value chain. We hate farming potatoes but we love chips. We hate farming co ee but it’s cool to say “let’s do coffee.”
Very few urbanites can milk a cow, but they love yogurt, cheese and other dairy products. We have no clue how cocoa is grown but we love chocolate.
May be our failure to brand and share information about farming makes it unattractive to the younger generation, often obese because of avoiding farm products that are unprocessed?
How often do we share information on farming in the Facebook or WhatsApp and other social media? How often do we exchange photos of cows, goats, sheep, horses on social media and other forums.
How often do you find crops and domestic animals in the cartoons? How many movies are about farming? Beyond George Orwell’s animal farm, or John Steinbecks grapes of Wrath, how many writers have romanticized farming? Both writers were not really about farming as we know it.
Radio and TV have attempted to bring farming to the mainstream. But how often do stories on farming trend?
Farming only trends in social discourse negatively particularly abuses. Wewe Ng’ombe, meaning you are foolish like a cow. Unafikiria mimi mjinga kana Kondoo. You think am stupid like a sheep. Unajifanya Ng’ombe ukamuliwe na nani?
Crops luckily get less publicity even bad. Maybe it’s because we love flowers.
Can we reverse this trend? Let’s extend the reasoning. We all boast of our cars, with models and engine capacity. Ever heard anyone boasting of his tractor or milking machine? The lack of mechanization in agriculture has made it uncool and unattractive. Remember machine tea picking is being opposed and resisted? Yet grapes are picked by machines in advanced economies, milking is done by machines.
One easy way to make a career glamorous and cool is to publicize the amount of money made by its professionals. We glorify actors and technology entrepreneurs because of the huge amount of money they make. More often than not, farmers make so little to get into public discourse. One can own a 1,000 acres but starve.
The real farmers make no money, all the value of hard work is captured by someone else. Compare the price of a cup of high quality coffee with the price of a bag of coffee. Do the same with potatoes or tea or other food crops or cash crops. Do the same with milk.
Meat seems exceptional, perhaps because it’s not abundant as other crops. The relatively low price of food shows we are not as deficient as popularly believed. If we were more open to variety, we would be more food sufficient. Who said we must eat ugali?
In other countries governments make farming cool through subsidies so that farmers get money come rain, come shine. That is tied to national pride. A respectable country should feed itself.
The media can bring coolness to this profession by romanticizing it like other professions. We know Kenya’s top bankers, athletes among other top professions. Who is Kenya farmer number one beyond retired President’s Moi’s self-declaration, decades ago, as farmer number one?
Some argue that rising food prices will attract more Kenyans to farming and make it cool. For now we know few students chose farming or better agriculture as first choice in their degree programs. Would more mechanization, use of technology make farming cooler? Interestingly agriculture or farming will resist successfully the gale of automation espoused by 4th industrial revolution. We can automate assembly of cars, but it will take a long time before all farming is automated particularly at the start of the supply chain. Why are we not fascinated by genetically modified crops? Why do we send our children to school to study science?
It’s time we made farming cool not by sipping coffee or tea but by telling the truth about its contribution to the economy, it’s contribution to national pride and jobs.
That should be on our TV screens, social media, radio and social discourse. Finally, farming can be made cool by empowering farmers. Beyond subsidies by the government, why can’t farmers form unions that rival KNUT?
We look forward to someone giving you a business card with the title “Farmer.” Is it not paradoxical that we never appreciate farming despite eating every day. How can we fail to appreciate one of the world’s oldest professions? Could it be about familiarity?
Maybe we have not created the right narrative about farming. Suppose we started with youngsters and their cartoons, then to millennials and their social media and culminating and celebrating those who farmed all their lives like my parents through TV or newspapers? What about movies about farming? If Maruge could be romanticized for going to school at 85, what of the farmers who have farmed and fed the nation all their lives? Are we such a thankless nation? Am just finishing a bowl of fruits salad at the end of farming supply chain; thanks to the farmers and their sweat. They are the nation’s uncelebrated heroes. We can be the first to celebrate them using media and it’s technology.
The writer is a senior Lecturer at The University of Nairobi