Raphael Wadeiwa removes weeds from the rice crop at Siriwo rice scheme in Siaya. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Food and nutrition security are major constraints and challenges facing many African countries, including Kenya. Boosting agricultural production requires enhanced crop varieties, effective pest and disease control, increased soil fertility, better soil and water management, and improved food quality and safety.

One approach to achieving food and nutrition security is through mutation and breeding, which refers to the development of plant strains using mutagenesis, including the irradiation of seeds. Kenya can only produce sufficient food if agriculture receives appropriate sustainable funding and also adopts policy changes that encourage the efficient and effective use of available innovations and services from agricultural institutions.

"There is a need for better uptake of our technologies and innovations, meaning stronger extension services that increase interactions with end-users, mostly farmers as individuals or groups, and appropriate community-based organizations (CBOs)," says agricultural research scientist Dr. Chris Ojiewo.

Dr Ojiewo of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) says Kenya is on the path of a green revolution and has developed varieties of crops like wheat, rice, and maize, which require little rainfall. Such innovations can save the country and other African countries from increasing dependency on imported wheat, sugar, rice, and maize.

He reveals that similar progress has been noted in soybeans and pasture crops like fodders and Napier grass. An economist and policy analyst, Charles Ayoro, says the Government needs to take sustainable funding and full modernization of gene banks seriously in this era of biotechnology, biodiversity, and conservation.

"Kenya passed a biosafety law in 2009. The enactment of the biosafety law paved the way for the commercialization of genetically modified products in the country. However, it has faced many legal challenges, including court cases by individuals and groups opposed to GMOs," says Ayoro, who is also a lawyer.

He observes that the occasional severe drought and famine in Kenya should force the country to re-examine the activities of major research institutions dealing with agriculture, forestry, wildlife, environment, and fisheries, including their success stories, achievements, and challenges. 

Dr. Meshack Muga of the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) observes that there is a need to examine the environment in which such institutions operate from global, regional, and national levels. There have been calls to allocate 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture in recognition as the most important sector.

Dr. Muga, a former research scientist with KEFRI, says Kenya should not suffer from devastating food shortages if efforts are directed at utilizing the products and services available in national and international research institutions dealing with various aspects of food and cash crops production, livestock, agro-forestry, and forestry. 

Kenya's population depends on maize as their main source of food, and maize production has been severely affected by frequent droughts. Drought leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty, thus making farming risky for millions of small-scale farmers who rely on rainfall. The effects of climate change have worsened the situation. 

Drought tolerance has been recognized as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs.