Agriculture is the backbone of many economies in Africa, including Kenya, yet it is among the least preferred economic activities or sources of employment.
United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO) Industrial Development Officer in the Agribusiness Department, Yvonne Lokko, spoke to Rachel Kibui on what can be done to promote the sector.
There has been increased interest in agriculture from the youth in Kenya, but the numbers of those farming have not grown significantly. What needs to be?
Young people need interesting and exciting ventures where they can utilise their energy and make money. Stereotyping agriculture as a reserve of the less-educated or those who have retired should stop.
Young people should be trained, right from the young age that agriculture is indeed a venture for all and not a lesser profession than any other.
There are numerous roles that young people can play in the agricultural sector. We should work towards massive mechanisation, and have people trained in operating these machines.
Then there are opportunities in value addition like making packaging materials, processing, marketing and even informing people on agriculture in simplified language.
Agriculture is not necessarily taking up tools of cultivation, it can be even use of modern technology to inform and influence both farmers and consumer patterns.
Is it possible for smallholder farmers to profit from farming yet they have no economies of scale?
The market for food is insatiable, but one small farmer cannot sustain it. Therefore, what farmers should do is to form cooperatives to ensure regular flow in the production and supply chain.
This way, they can jointly secure a common market and sustain it without or with minimal failure. In cooperatives, farmers can also access services from professionals such as agronomists.
They can also access funding and other benefits like training opportunities.
Are African governments doing enough to support agriculture?
Most African governments need to improve on how they handle agriculture. Governments need to channel more money in promoting agricultural research and extension services.
Through research, new seed varieties that are adoptable to different climates can be produced boosting harvests.
The governments also need to promote value addition, not only to improve standards of produce, but also create more employment opportunities.
What about the private sector, is it playing its rightful role in promoting agriculture?
I personally think that the private sector is doing well. There are many non-governmental organisations and international agencies that focus on agriculture either directly or indirectly.
However, the private sector should also actively seek to be involved in policy formulation, where government is not performing well.
Kenyan farmers are mainly farming individually, with many even afraid to share knowledge for fear of competition. How can this be corrected?
Farmers need to know that fighting poverty and empowering people economically is not a one-person affair. They should share information and guide each other to succeed in agriculture.
This can be done well if they are in groups.
You are in the country to oversee several activities under the Standards and Market Access Programme (SMAP). Tell us about this programme and why it matters to farmers.
SMAP is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNIDO among other partners.
The programme focuses on boosting standards and increasing foreign market access mainly through training in dairy, apiculture, aquaculture, meat and horticultural sector.
We have so far trained 200 participants and Trainers of Trainees from high horticultural production areas.
Through the training, farmers are expected to know what is needed in the export market, including dealing with chemical residue challenges.