We must come together to boost farm productivity

Saturday August 6 2016

Nelson Maina

Nelson Maina, the head of communications at Elgon Kenya Ltd. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By NELSON MAINA
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As early as 9am, the hall was parked with farmers who had come from as far as Narok and Nandi Hills. among other regions, armed with all sorts of problems requiring urgent and immediate answers.

We single out farmers from far-flung regions because they couldn’t wait for the clinic to arrive at the centre near them but instead they chose to travel the long distances to present their case to the experts.

It was a humbling moment seeing farmers coming with soils and diseased plants desperate for answers, their argument being that plant diseases, just like human health issues cannot wait for the doctor to arrive.

It was heartbreaking hearing lamentations due to lack of immediate responses when they report problems or frustrations of not knowing where to seek for remedy.

Complaints about laxity especially among government officials to move fast to help save crops were legion.

Needless to say we leant vital lessons from that close interaction with farmers and these experiences must inform the way agriculture is managed if Kenya and the world in general expect to tackle food insecurity and alleviate poverty associated with low farm productivity.

COLLABORATIONS

This week, a report titled State of East Africa released by the Society for International Development (SIDA) paints a grim picture of agriculture productivity which is reported to be declining by the season with no clear timely policies to equip farmers with requisite skills and resources to increase volumes and value.

Over the past five years, Elgon Kenya has been working individually, and in partnerships, to  embrace growers who are the first interaction with the soil because unless we understand what stops them from realising full potential, it doesn’t matter what else we do.

Not to say nothing has been done. Studies, reports, research, recommendations and many other “academic” solutions are gathering dust in offices while the farmer who needs the information is suffering from lack of the same.

How then can we work together to ensure that factors responsible for declining farm production are arrested in time to avoid losses and the high cost of food?

The answer lies in collaborations. 

All stakeholders across the productivity value chain need to put their heads together and map a strategy with clear indicators to help the farmer with the necessary knowledge and resources he requires to deliver adequate fruits of his sweat.

We have seen, and we can speak with authority, what support and recognition can do. Since we started the National Farmers Awards, the annual scheme that rewards best practices, there has been a surging interest in improving farming to win an award.

YOUTH EMBRACING FARMING

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the youth category has witnessed the biggest number of entrants for this year’s awards indicating that the scheme is attracting young people to the farms.

This is a major achievement considering that globally, young people are reported to shun the soil in favour of white collar jobs.

It is more encouraging to see university graduates hanging their certificates and folding their sleeves to farm with passion.

It is high time the national government, the county governments, development partners and private sector joined hands to work together on a roadmap that sustainably keeps our farms productive.

We have created a platform that shows it is doable let’s scale it up and put adequate affordable food on our tables and make the farmer rich.

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Nelson Maina is Head of Communication at Elgon Kenya Ltd