Erick Ogumo is the chairman of Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisors (S0CAA), a professional body that brings together agricultural experts from horticulture, agrochemical, fertiliser, seeds and food safety, amongst others. Leopold Obi spoke to him on a variety of issues affecting the agriculture sector.
Tell us your role as a professional body?
Our main objective as an organisation is to drive professionalism in agriculture. We have brought together several experts so that they can be accessed easily by farmers.
For many years, farmers have not known where to turn to in case they need agricultural services, making them vulnerable to quacks. Ours is a one-stop shop for different experts.
We import maize from our neighbours yet we are capable of producing enough. What is ailing our food production sector?
Agricultural sector suffered a big blow in the mid-90s when the government decided to cut down labour force in various sectors it considered ‘non-priority areas’ and agriculture happened to be one of them. As a result, hiring of agricultural officers who were to offer extension services to local farmers slowed down consequently affecting food production.
Currently, our budgetary allocation for agriculture is far below the 10 per cent minimum requirement. In East Africa it is only Tanzania that is close to the recommended rate at 7.2 per cent followed by Uganda at 6.5 per cent while Kenya comes behind at only 5.8 per cent.
Again, whereas farms in Kenya are subdivided into tiny non-viable parcels, Tanzania is doing substantially larger farming thereby gaining from economies of scale. Uganda, on the other hand, enjoys diverse staples that include matoke, cassava and ugali, while we over-rely on maize.
In that case, what should be done to salvage the situation?
First, the government must review budgetary allocation for agriculture to 10 per cent in line with Comprehensive Africa Agriculture
Development Programme recommendations as contained in the Maputo Declaration. It is ironical that agriculture contributes over 30 per cent to the national gross domestic product and employs over 75 per cent of the population but only receives 5.8 per cent of the budget.
Second, about 30 per cent of foods we produce go to waste due to poor post-harvest handling and lack of storage facilities. Therefore, we must invest in food storage facilities in markets to ensure long shelf-life of what we produce.
Third, the government should also provide incentives to farmers to grow other crops other than maize. One can produce 10 tonnes of passion fruits from an acre, and sell a kilo at Sh80, making a Sh800,000, a feat that cannot be achieved with maize.
Food safety is also a major concern...
When talking about food safety in fruits and vegetables, there are three potential risks: chemical risks associated with pesticide residues; microbial risks associated with the quality of irrigation water used and general product handling and heavy metal risks from irrigation water quality and the soil in which the crop is grown.
Globally, Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) have been set for various pesticides on various crops and Kenya is a key player in global food safety compliance. However, we need policy guidelines on codes of practice among fresh produce dealers in the domestic market indicating storage conditions, cold chain requirement, shelf-life, pesticide residue monitoring and general produce handling procedures.