Kenya and Ireland last week signed a five-year agreement to enable local farmers export produce to the Irish market. Leopold Obi spoke to Dr Vincent O'Neill, the Irish Ambassador to Kenya on how the deal will benefit farmers and what lessons Kenya can learn from Ireland
Tell us more about this agreement and what farmers should look forward to
The agreement aims at increasing trade between Kenya and Ireland. We have expertise and experience on crop farming and fisheries and we want to avail these to farmers. We are targeting dairy, potato and fisheries sectors.
In potato, we have an agreement to provide high-yielding seeds, where we will bring in new planting materials that will later be distributed to farmers.
Currently, an average Kenyan farmer produces 4-6 tonnes of potatoes per hectare but the new seeds can produce over 40 tonnes.
The seeds are also disease-resistant and are better variety for making chips.
We are working with potato farmers in Nyeri, Nyandarua and the Rift Valley to help them access better seeds and improved storage.
For livestock, we will bring in new animal genetics to help improve the dairy industry.
The Irish agricultural sector is among those booming in Europe. What did you do and what lessons can farmers and policy makers borrow from your experience?
We are a smaller country than Kenya and until recently, we were among the poorest in Europe. Our economy 50 years ago relied on commodity-based agriculture with very little value addition.
Today, we have a very well-developed agricultural sector that produces 10 times more than we can consume, employs over 160,000 farmers and nets in 80 billion Euros in exports.
We export to 165 markets globally and we are a recognised global leader in agro-food.
Other than the fact that we have a favourable climate which supports dairy farming, our government has linked policy with research and private sector institutions to facilitate the emergence of farming as a business.
Farmers are, therefore, trained and are encouraged to adopt business approach. There is also a strong focus on small to medium-sized enterprises for value addition.
In other words farmers have a guaranteed market, both domestic and abroad.
In Ireland, we have 1.4 million cows producing 6.4 billion litres a year, which is quite high compared to 4.2 million cows in Kenya offering 5.2 billion litres of milk every year.
This is because we have a better genetic stock of livestock and better management regimes.
Finally, we have a strong food safety authority which has set high food safety standards for products sold in the domestic and export market.
Food safety is very important because when there is question on safety of your produce, you lose market confidence. These are some of the lessons we want to share with Kenyan farmers.
Many farmers would be eager to know how they can join your projects?
We are already working with farmer cooperatives through support for organisations such as the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) and Self Help Africa.
This support will continue. We plan also to have a particular focus on Nyandarua County – in which case we will work with smallholder farmers through partnerships with the county government, NGOs such as IFDC and private sector organisations such as IPM and Kevian.
How will the Kenya-Irish partnership help revive the struggling fish industry?
Kenyans eat very little sea fish as compared to Ireland. Being an island, we have exploited our fisheries resources. We want to share the same experience with Kenyans.
We are specifically targeting fish farming in the ocean, and helping the Kenyan government to develop policies and regulation around sea fisheries protection and costal surveillance.
How will the partnership improve agri-trade between Kenya and Ireland?
Ireland is the third largest consumer of Kenyan tea, and also a major consumer of coffee and cut flowers, among other horticultural crops.
Currently, there are Irish companies which are working with local farmers to help them access our market in sectors such as dairy, beef, food safety, farm machines and equipment.
Investment in agriculture helped Ireland cut poverty and the same can happen in Kenya. Agriculture will put money into farmers pockets besides improving household nutrition.
As part of the partnership, your government launched the Africa Agri-Food Development Programme. What is the programme all about?
It is a fund to boost trade and partnership between Irish agri-food sector and the Kenyan agri-food business so that local entrepreneurs can gain access to the Irish market.
The programme provides 25,000 Euros (Sh3.1 million) as a grant. To be considered in the programme, a local company should form a joint venture with an Irish agri-food company, and they should provide the same amount (25,000 Euros) up-front under the joint venture.
Besides that, we will be working with Kenya Private Sector Alliance to incentivise small and medium-sized enterprise to increase their productivity and also offer farmer education and training which will guarantee enhanced food production.