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Home / Smart Harvest

Time to match agriculture policy and practice for better yields

Nelson Maina

Although it has not been announced officially, Abbas Gullet, the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross has said Kenya experienced a severe drought in many parts of the country, fuelling famine fears.

Needless to say, we are in the middle of yet another horribly dry season, a rather unexpected turn of events given that expectations were high the heavens would be generous. The key word here is expectations. Why in 2019 our agriculture sector is still dependent on expectations beats logic. This conclusion is probably harsher than the harsh weather we are experiencing.

Here we are, fearing and facing possibility of famine in some regions while in our breadbasket of the North Rift, farmers are a frustrated lot as haggling over a profitable prize of selling their produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) doesn’t seem to end. Reports indicate we had a fair harvest last season, a development widely cheered. But it wasn’t long before the cheer turned into a jeer as farmers, the board and politicians went for each other. The irony of this scenario should prick us into action. That we got a good harvest in one season should have taught us valuable lessons. It is indeed possible to attain food security, if we aligned production with marketing and distribution. Food security cannot be left entirely in the hands of private sector players who put profits before policy.

Sorry state

Once the farmer has harvested, the next on the chain should collect the produce for storage and distribution then pay for the circle to continue. It is painful to see a farmer lamenting a rich harvest when he should be rejoicing. What exactly is the problem?

While dozens of policy documents, conference papers and academic journals have outlined elaborately how and what the country needs to do in streamlining the value chain, there still exists yawning difference between policy and action. The purpose of agriculture driving economic prosperity is for the sector to produce enough to comfortably feed people and have surplus for export while creating jobs.

We need to go back to the basics. Seeds for example are at the heart of food production and determine yields. The debate on the seed sector has dominated forums yet we don’t seem to get it right. Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics is famed for his maxim ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ How do we explain recent admissions by a section of farmers and researchers that some farmers are stuck with the same seeds since the 1930s and still expect magic in their farms?

It is a sorry state of affairs that Kenya hosts dozens of research institutions of international repute that are every day producing high valued seed varieties, yet only a negligible percentage of farmers access them.

At the heart of the seed debate, is variety, packaging and availability to farmers. Government has been overwhelmed in addressing these hiccups which is why the private sector should now more than ever step in.

Back to our current drought anxiety, changes in weather, which scientists have predicted will touch our region the hardest.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates that temperature increases will be, on average, 50 percent greater in Africa with countries in East Africa bearing the biggest brunt.

This will see a drop of 22 per cent in African maize yields, 17 per cent for sorghum and 8 per cent for cassava. As bad as the situation looks, stakeholders in the agriculture supply chain believe there is a big possibility of turning things around. Let us all join together and match policy with practice.

[The writer is the Communications Manager at Elgon Kenya Ltd]  

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