Industry leaders pledge to help farmers access affordable technology
To improve yields and income, small holder farmers need to access affordable modern technology and climate-smart farming solutions.
These technologies include minimum tillage, use of digital solutions like GPS, soil scanning, data management, and Internet of Things technologies, apps, climate-smart seeds, data analytics among others.
Speaking during the inaugural FarmKenya Initiative breakfast organised by the Standard Group Plc to discuss food security, experts in the agriculture sector agreed that there is need for radical shift in how farming is done to tackle emerging challenges such as locusts invasion and changing weather patterns.
Experts from agricultural institutions including the Kenya Seed Company, FMD East Africa, YARA Kenya, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) and Practical Action in East Africa, unanimously agreed that the only solution to Kenya’s food security is modernisation.
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has previously termed outdated technology as one of the biggest challenges facing farmers.
The forum stressed that with the right technology use, farmers can enjoy increased efficiency and consequently, enhanced food productivity.
“To enjoy three to four times the increase in yields, we have to embrace mechanisation, soil conditioning and agrochemicals,” said Fergus Robley, the FMD East Africa Managing Director.
Standard Group Chief Executive Officer Orlando Lyomu said the media house will continue to provide farmers with adequate and correct information on cutting edge technology to improve their ventures.
Other speakers cited technological innovations that have potential to boost yields.
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“We have calibrated good fertiliser regimes that can increase the production of maize per acre from 14 bags to 25 bags, at the same cost of production. Through technology we see fertiliser, machinery and other good agricultural practices that increase food productivity,” William Ng’eno, the YARA East Africa Country Manager said.
Ng’eno noted that farmers lack feasibility plans, and that is where digital solutions come in, like weather applications.
“The YARA Farm Weather, for instance, gives farmers the ability to look at weather patterns, then they can prepare the land adequately,” said Ng’eno, emphasising the importance of planning in achieving high and quality yields.
The experts acknowledged that smallholder farmers are, in particular constrained from accessing machines and other farming technology due to limited finances.
As the discussion revealed, 60 per cent of Kenyan farmers face prohibitive costs, which make farming an unsustainable source of livelihood.
Some organisations are working towards giving farmers access to affordable machinery with flexible payment arrangements, such as FMD East Africa.
To help farmers access affordable machinery, recently, the organisation unveiled small tractors, which are more affordable.
Jacob Ochieng’ of Practical Action in East Africa, an NGO that works to alleviate poverty also weighed in on the need to avail farmers with affordable technology.
“We have a variety of technology for the small scale farmers. We need to understand how we transfer and use skill,” Ochieng’ noted.
Practical Action in East Africa, is helping poor farmers gain access to important information and knowledge that can help boost their yields, easing the effect of financial constraints that limit many of Kenya’s farmers.
The forum also highlighted the importance of partnering with universities for cutting edge research that transforms farming.
Towards this end, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Extension Professor Mary Abukutsa Onyango said universities can produce impactful research and infrastructure that could improve productivity through partnerships.
Eric Kimugunyi, the East Africa manager for AAK said greater engagement and collaboration among players in the sector could be impactful in creating technological solutions that are unique to the needs of Kenyan farmers.
Worryingly, the discussion revealed, is farmers’ lack of information on and access to existing technology, a factor that is worsened by financial constraints.
According to the experts, farmers lack adequate knowledge on farming techniques, including knowledge of the soil, seed varieties, land preparation methods, use of pesticides and effective harvesting and storage, factors that lead to massive losses throughout the entire farming process.
“Many farmers lack adequate information, so we need to sensitise them on certain aspects of food production and build capacity in counties so farmers can have access to technical professionals who can guide them,” said Azariah Soi, the Managing Director Kenya See.
However, even without technology, the experts said, paying attention to certain critical factors can have an enormous effect on improving yields.
“Make plans in advance, get the right varieties, do the right land preparation and apply the right amount of fertiliser. But before this is done, you have to get it right from the beginning, get to understand the soil, what is the pH of the soil? Once you perform the soil tests and understand the soil you will know the levels of fertiliser to apply,” said Soi.
Failure to pay attention to these factors, the experts noted, are preventing farmers from getting maximum yields, thus keeping Kenya from attaining food security.
“Our farmers lack feasibility plans, and that is where digital solutions come in, like weather applications. The YARA Farm Weather, for instance, gives farmers the ability to look at weather patterns, then they can prepare the land adequately,” said Ng’eno. The app gives a feasibility of 14 days, allowing farmers to plan when to plough, plant, top dress, and perform other farming-related tasks.
The breakfast was organised by The Standard Group as part of its transformative Farm Kenya Initiative that seeks to create all rounded media to disseminate key agricultural information.
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