Friday, October 12, 2012

Population growth outstrips food harvests

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Agriculture, Romano Kiome. Photo/FILE

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Agriculture, Romano Kiome. Photo/FILE 

By JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT [email protected]

Agriculture experts have raised concern about the ability of Kenya to feed its fast growing population.

The experts say although the country was heading in the right direction in its efforts to produce food, a lot needed to be done to cement the rising production in readiness for the high population in a few years to come.

The country’s focus on subsistence farming was criticised with many speakers saying agriculture should not only allow farmers to only “subsist” but that is should be a dependable money-making venture.

They said the kind of farming where a farmer only focuses on planting crops and keeping animals for home consumption was to blame as it had held back the huge potential in the sector.

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Agriculture, Romano Kiome, hosted the debate at Nairobi’s Hilton Hotel last Wednesday.

It was meant to seek the way forward for the struggling food sector. The discussion was held ahead of the World Food Day, to be observed on Tuesday.

“Subsisting means we are barely floating, we can sink any time. Something has to change,” Dr Kiome said pointing at the continuing dependence on the small scale farming in the country hugely dependent on agriculture.

Debate centred on crucial areas that could improve agricultural production.

Mr Ousainou Ngum, the executive director Agency for Cooperative Development, stressed the need to improve governance and enhanced political will adding that the two ingredients were vital in achieving food sufficiency.

“We should be celebrating what we have achieved in the past not agonising about what we did not do,” Mr Ngum said while making his contribution. He added that cooperative societies were an indispensable entity in the agricultural sector.

“This country has the necessary markets and commercial outlets for farm produce, only that they are yet to be fully exploited,” he said in relation to a question on whether cooperative societies were useful at all in promoting the sector that is key to the nation’s economic growth.

The high cost of farm input and lack of an organised marketing system for products were further blamed for the poor performance of the sector.

Also, an existing mentality among some farmers that fertilisers were not a useful farming input also came under scrutiny with Agriculture Secretary Wilson Songa requesting farmers to “take the risk to use fertiliser” in order to improve productivity.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation has set 2012 as the year for Agricultural cooperatives and this year’s World Food Day focuses on empowering the societies.

The debate saw the participants shift focus to the cooperatives’ importance with Dr Kiome asking for “food co-operative societies.” He said there was a possibility of having them if the right mechanisms were put in place.

“Agricultural co-operatives play an important role in supporting small agricultural producers and marginalised groups such as young people and women. They empower their members economically and socially and create sustainable rural employment through business models that are more resilient to economic and environmental shocks,” said Mr Seno Nyakenyanya, the PS in the ministry of Cooperative Development. 

Out of the more than 14,000 registered cooperative societies, about 38 per cent are agricultural marketing, 48 per cent financial-based and 14 per cent doing other activities, an indication that food societies was not a far-fetched idea.

World Food Programme country director Ronald Sibanda called for a ready market for farm produce. He also emphasised the importance of access to credit from banks.  

“Such basic infrastructure as roads and banks to get money to expand their farming activities should be considered,” he said.

Last year, the ministry blamed the drought and poor food distribution for the skyrocketed food prices on essential foodstuffs such as maize and beans.

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