Go slow on land sub-divisions, urge experts

Saturday March 15 2014

When agricultural land is sub-divided, it loses value, endangering food security. PHOTO | FILE

When agricultural land is sub-divided, it loses value, endangering food security. PHOTO | FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

Experts and policy-makers have raised the alarm over sub-division of land which, they warn, is threatening food security.

They say the shrinking sizes of agricultural land is making farming expensive and urge farmers to pool together to benefit from economies of scale.

“The cost of production in small farms is much higher, yet the yields are low. And small-scale farmers try to evade this cost by investing less in farm input such as fertiliser and seed, a move which is self-defeating,” Deputy President William Ruto said during the launch of subsidised fertiliser distribution recently, adding that land consolidation was the future of agriculture.

Dr James Nyoro, a food security expert, says progressive moving of small-scale farmers out of food production into high value crops is another way out of the vicious cycle of hunger.

“Look at it this way, if you have an acre of land in Bungoma, for instance, and you are growing maize on it, for the whole year, the best you’ll make after harvest is Sh50,000. Now take the same land and put it under crops such as tomatoes and other vegetables, you will make a lot more than Sh50,000,” says Dr Nyoro, a former Rockefeller Foundation director for Africa who now advises President Kenyatta on food security.

CULTURAL PRACTICES

Kenya’s land policy recognises that land is not just a commodity of trade but also a principal source of livelihoods. But as populations continue to rise, the land is subdivided numerous times, mostly due to cultural practices. And with majority of Kenya’s farmers practising subsistence farming, smaller units of land means these farmers cannot even feed themselves.

“What we need to appreciate as a country is that our land is fixed. It is not going to grow by even one more inch. So we need to start focusing on land management,” says Dr Isaac Kalua, the chairman of the Kenya Water Towers Association.

The seed sub-sector is also paying the price of land sub-division. The Kenya Seed Trade Association of Kenya says Kenya produces only 40,000 tonnes of certified seed, valued at Sh5.1 billion, each year.

This is too low for an economy that’s dependent on agriculture.

STAK’s chairman Azariah Soi says lack of sufficient land on which to produce seed has led to higher costs of production.

Farmers’ preferences have also shifted over the years, as they continue finding alternative land uses. Nakuru, for instance, was once Kenya’s leading producer of wheat, but due to land subdivision, land under wheat was all but gone. And seed experts argue that if farmers continue changing their preferences, Kenya will be in trouble, as the maize, the country’s staple crop, will be the worst hit.

“It is not economical to produce seed in small scale. And if the subdivisions continue, then Kenya is likely to run into a seed shortage in the near future, and this will impact greatly on food production,” says Soi.

The plan now is to invest heavily in the Galana-Kulalu Ranch in order to produce at least 50 million bags of maize per year, which will be enough to sustain the country. And once that target is achieved, then the government can begin transitioning small-scale farmers out of food production.