Dr Dennis Charles Otieno, an agricultural economist at Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, spoke to Pauline Kairu on what it takes to join the career and why it’s crucial to farmers.
Agricultural resource economics… what is all that about?
It is an applied field of economics, which deals with the application of economic theories in optimising the production of crop and livestock products. It addresses issues in farm management, agricultural finance and trade, marketing and natural resource use and management.
As an agricultural economist, I have to deal with making decisions concerning risk and uncertainty of agricultural production, reliance on natural resources and institutions that govern agriculture industry, among other things.
From this work, we end up with policy recommendations on how proper management of the resources can sustainably take care of the environment.
What is the education or training needed to become an agricultural economist?
One can take agricultural economics as a course, agribusiness management, or any other agriculture-related course. Also business management and forestry and natural resource management are entry points.
What is your advice to a student who wants to take a career in this field?
Have good grades in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. The student also needs to have an interest in agriculture and economics.
They also need to view agriculture as a business from which one gets a lot of practical experience since most of our outcomes are evidence-based.
What other qualities are important in this occupation?
It is good to have a fair idea of agricultural business management. You also need to be aware of the changing trends in this field.
You must, therefore, have interest in scientific research and developments and be sound in conducting statistical analysis. To become an agricultural economist, you must have a sharp and analytical mind.
As an economist, what is your typical day like?
I have been in this job for about 10 years and I find it fulfilling. Some days are spent in the field collecting data and information, which means interacting with people who are involved in agricultural production, while others are spent in office organising that data to come up with informed positions on whatever it is we are researching. We call these possible outcomes.
Most of the time, however, is spent on trying to understand things from different angles and simulate scenarios. This means doing an analysis on different aspects to arrive at the best position. I have also to set time daily to read journals on agricultural economic systems.
What are the challenges in the sector and how can we overcome them?
There is a lot of negative attitude towards agriculture, shortage of skilled manpower, low agricultural productivity and low returns as well as an unsupportive political economy.
Of course we cannot overcome them at once, but we need to inculcate a positive attitude towards agriculture, train more people to work in the sector and have a supportive government that comes up with policies that boost the sector.
Highs and lows in your work?
My successes are based on the breakthroughs I have had in research, particularly in milk production where I was working on a pricing model. I came up with recommendations and forwarded them to the government for policy.
I have recently been involved in checking the economic viability of irrigated maize production for the Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme where we were trying to examine how the maize was being produced and the potential output.
We found it was likely to be 11 bags per acre against the claim of 40bags.