Knowledge ploughed back for food security

Wednesday March 18 2020

Mr Francis Ekiru was born and raised in a family of nomadic pastoralists in Turkana County. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL

Mr Ekiru was born and raised in a family of nomadic pastoralists in Turkana County. Starvation and malnutrition characterised his childhood. The incentive of the feeding programme in one of the local schools is what lured him to class.

Today as a senior officer of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Ekiru empowers and encourages the youth in his home county to participate in agriculture to enhance food security, create alternative livelihoods and boost their income.

He discusses the role of youth in ensuring the country’s food security.


What is your role at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)?

I am the manager at FAO’s Kakuma Sub Office where I coordinate the organisation’s activities in the refugee settlement and the host community.

Through the establishment of an integrated settlement area at Kalobeyei, we work to ensure that the refugees and the local community have access to social services, develop economic ties to build sustainable livelihoods and live in harmony.

We train households on agronomy, nutrition, natural resource management, crop and livestock production. I also promote partnerships between FAO and entities such as the county government, European Union, UN bodies and other stakeholders.


Where do you derive your passion for food production from?

Communities in Turkana County have always relied on relief food for survival. Having been raised here, I believed that the solution to this sad situation lay in the implementation of sustainable food security strategies.

This is why I chose to specialise in production and market systems so that I could directly contribute to empowerment of vulnerable populations in Turkana.

Joining FAO inflamed my passion for food security, and broadened my scope of thinking of opportunities available to transform the current traditional production systems to new paradigms that capitalise on inventions, innovations, value addition, market functionality and sustainable access.


Do the youth have a role to play in the quest for food security in Kenya?

The contribution of the youth in promoting food security covers actual production activities and provision of support services such as input supply, transporting produce to the market and value addition.

While they make up the largest component of the Kenyan population, the youth do not own assets such as land and as such, their energy would better be utilised in other activities that do not involve primary production.


Besides enhancing food security, why else should young people adopt agriculture as a livelihood?

The food production gap in Kenya keeps widening owing to different dynamics. The high and consistent demand for food alone should motivate young people to venture into agriculture.

Besides, different communities are increasingly changing their traditional lifestyles and adopting different types of foods in their diets after discovering the nutritive value of such foods.

These developments come with agricultural opportunities for maximisation.

The popularity of vegetable production, poultry and fish farming remain potential and lucrative agricultural enterprises that our youth could go after to diversify their livelihoods. These initiatives, however, require commitment, funding and appraisal to limit risks.


How does FAO engage young people in its initiatives?

Youth empowerment and integration towards the realisation of food security and entrepreneurship is at the heart of FAO’s principles.

More than 50 percent of our target beneficiaries are youths in schools, urban centres and rural settings.

We train and expose them to agriculture and wider community development initiatives. We also orientate them on agriculture, trade, cooperatives, and market initiatives and later link them back to their communities to promote adoption and replication of agricultural technologies and good farming practices they have acquired.


Why do you think the majority of Kenyan youth are disinclined to agriculture?

In many parts of Kenya with non-established market systems, agriculture is considered a traditional practice primarily for production of food for consumption purposes.

In the current economic context where money determines the way of living, youth tend to direct their efforts to initiatives that generate money easily.


How then can agriculture be made more enticing to the youth?

Foremost, investments in youth empowerment through training, exposure to technologies and capital support should be scaled up to secure the youth an equitable share in production and markets.

This will make them more competitive in the agriculture matrix. Requisite market categories should be established and functionalised so that youth get motivated to produce.

Youth should be connected to research in order for them to effectively utilise the available knowledge resources to improve decisions on agricultural-based investments.

Are you convinced that the government’s Big 4 agenda will help to realise food security?

The Big 4 agenda interlink intricately and, if well implemented, together with vibrant food security policies, will considerably reduce inherent food and income insecurity among Kenyans.

But first we must expand our food production capacities by providing our farmers with more effective farming methods and enhancing the efficiency of our markets. Additionally, expanding the manufacturing sector by tapping into the innovation and inventiveness of our youth, for instance, would make Kenya a production-driven economy.


What are your proudest accomplishments?

Impacting lives of needy populations as a trainer, researcher, and expert in production, business development, technology advancement and transfer.

This way, I have been able to change attitudes and to spur meaningful production, build resilience and self-reliance in my local community.

Although I began school late at the age of ten, I was able to attend different colleges and universities in Kenya and abroad, culminating in my attainment of an MBA degree from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus.

I am driven by the need to achieve better education to change other peoples’ lives and make them flourish.


If you could pass on three of your most valued attributes to the youth of this country, what would those qualities be?

Kenya is a growing economy that is becoming competitive on all fronts by the day. To succeed, the youth must embrace hard work to secure their space in national building, maintain ethics through discipline and fairness and be careful risk-takers by making the most of opportunities available to them.