Time to put Kenya’s agriculture and food security on a firm footing is now

Thursday April 21 2011

By MOSES NYONGESA

The current food shortage despite growth estimates showing favourable trends in the agricultural sector is a paradox.

This could arise from disproportionate growth in the non-food and food sub-sectors, which mask non-performance in the latter, thereby, distorting the overall picture.

The commonly proposed solution is large-scale adoption of improved technologies to boost crop and livestock production.

But until we get our fundamentals right with regard to how we produce food, isolated interventions will merely constitute extra costs with little significant contribution to national food security.

The agriculture and food problem is an inevitable outcome of our decisions, or indecisions.

The assumption here is that the government wishes to meet our food needs from our own national production with minimal imports.

Indeed, it is a rare country that deliberately decides to rely exclusively on food produced outside its borders. Countries which have found solutions to their internal food needs have elaborate systems to produce enough for their populations and surpluses for export or aid to countries yet to put their acts together.

In the race for development in any of their endeavours, nations look beyond their boundaries to discern what has worked for their neighbours regarding those things they want for themselves.

A common element in many countries confident of their food producing processes is the careful co-ordination of the various units that make up the ‘entire production outfit’.

These systems function efficiently and have clear responsibility and decision-making structures.

Kenya has plenty of examples to choose from if we were honest and looked more carefully.

It’s often said that Kenya has potential to produce enough food for its population. A large part of the country is arable. We also have memory of what has worked or failed us in the past, a sizeable amount of research findings, and a robust human resource base to meet the challenges involved in food production.

Agriculture and food should, ideally, belong together administratively in any attempt to feed a nation.

We need to quantify national food needs and determine where we stand with regard to the adequacy or otherwise of land available for cultivation or for putting under livestock, who is farming, and whether they have the means to produce efficiently.

Secondly, we need to establish the sufficiency of production inputs including stocks of improved varieties or breeds, fertilisers or feeds and pest-control products.

Thirdly, we must determine the reliability of the weather forecasting tools that are useful in timing crucial farming activities.

Lastly, it is necessary to know the effectiveness of research/advisory services and regulatory services for agro-inputs/produce as well as environmental stability.

With the aid of prediction models, estimates can be made about how much food from crops or livestock farming will be produced in a season.

However, the difference between the predicted and actual produce still needs to be determined on the basis of reports from monitoring teams.

The country could still be at risk of food shortage in the absence of decisions about how to reduce wastage or spoilage during harvesting, transportation, distribution, processing and storage.

This implies that a system with innumerable disconnected decisions made at each stage of food production only leads to food insecurity.
But a properly staffed and carefully co-ordinated system devoid of patronage permits detection of failure at any stage allowing for correctional measures.
These issues have been discussed at different forums and official action plans developed. But the fact that we still suffer food shortages is sufficient evidence that there are still things we should put right.

As many national institutions undergo change following the adoption of the new Constitution, the time is ripe to seek long-term solutions to our food problems.

Mr Nyongesa is a Walsh Fellow at Teagasc Crops Research Centre, Republic of Ireland, and a PhD candidate registered at the University of Wales, Bangor, UK. ([email protected])

Advertisement