Tap agri-tech to boost food security and provide jobs

Sunday May 19 2019

Africa is billed as the last frontier in feeding the world. But even with its vast fertile lands, massive rivers and amenable climate, it is a food-deficient continent as opposed to a rich food exporter.

Africa has gained the dubious reputation of a drought and hunger-stricken continent.


Meteorologists regularly issue warnings that the climatic conditions for farming will become harsher, hence poorer harvests. That begs the question of our true standing in the looming severe food insecurity.

The once-predictable seasons are changing and the future of food security in Kenya is bleak.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) recently reported that Kenya is experiencing its worst drought in 38 years. The rainfall deficit would plunge the country into a crisis that could see food insecurity and malnutrition undermine the economy.


Officially, more than 10 million Kenyans are food-insecure, with a majority often relying on relief. Also, the majority of the population has no access to food in the right amounts and quality. Households incur huge food bills due to the increasing food prices, fuelling inflation.

Agriculture is the engine of economic growth and a valuable source of income for most Kenyans. USAid reports that about 75 per cent of Kenyans derive all or part of their livelihoods from the sector, accounting for 18 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Sadly, the sector is shunned by financial institutions. Farmers are traditionally hugely underserved by most financial institutions, given the perceived risk associated with the business. Bank loans have strenuous conditions, locking the majority out of the credit system and forcing them to resort to bootstrap funding — a mode of starting a business without external help or capital.

However, in the past decade, agriculture has seen an increased interest in boosting its productivity as public and private sector institutions recognise the sector as a promising investment that addresses a national challenge.


Additionally, the integration of technology with standard agricultural practices has set the pace for increased productivity and better quality of produce.

But small-scale farmers in Africa need better access to new technology and affordable credit to sustain their investments. They require training and sensitisation on market dynamics and financing options to boost access to finance.

To achieve Kenya’s food security agenda, the private sector must be encouraged and incentivised to innovate. This can be achieved through design and development of a wide range of instruments, either as a technical assistance or part of lending projects: Value chain finance and credit guarantee schemes for agriculture.

The development of more mobile banking and payment platforms to enhance access to finance and reduce transaction costs are playing a positive role in changing the industry dynamics. An important focus should be to reduce the risk in agriculture by addressing systemic risks such as climatic conditions through crop insurance and operating costs by reaching out to smallholder farmers and SME agribusinesses.

Change is inevitable; our farming models must evolve. Modern agricultural practices, backed by partnerships with financial institutions, are a prerequisite to changing the way farming is perceived.

Mr Naftali is the Head of KCB MobiGrow Programme. [email protected]