In the next 10-15 years, Kenya will need 70% more food.
At the moment, 80% of our food production comes from small scale farmers.
…We have a crisis on our hands.
Soon the output of food will not sustain our growing population. And with currently fluctuating food prices in the country, we’re already beginning to feel the effects.
Despite this, many of us have never considered why our agriculture industry is struggling to feed us. And like any movement toward change, the first step is acknowledging the problems we face.
Out-dated farm practices
Small and medium scale farmers continue to use amorphous and laborious farm systems that yield lower harvest rates. And although agricultural technology continues to offer new and improved farming methods, many of Kenya’s smaller scale farmers remain ‘stuck in the past’.
Many Kenyan farmers prefer to stick to their traditional farming techniques because they fear the added complexity and effort that newer farm methods would subject them to. As a result our food industry suffers from low efficiency and productivity.
I suppose the old saying goes ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’… at least until they’re hungry enough to learn them.
Farmers can’t afford new methods
Unlike many western cultures, much Kenya’s agricultural produce is aggregated from small scale farmers. This means that most of our ‘fruit and veg’ is coming from the men and women we see in rural towns with small ‘shambas’ and garden hoes in their hands. This is a serious problem.
Moreover, these small-scale farmers struggle to gain knowledge about improved farming methods and quite frankly cannot afford the large-scale machinery used by larger farm owners.
This means that much of our commercial farm products are produced on farms that are ill-equipped to accommodate the rising demand for food.
Lack of infrastructure
If you’ve ever driven through rural Kenya, you’ll notice that there are farms everywhere… “how can we not have enough food?”
Unfortunately, even though some of these farms produce high yields of crops, they are difficult to access. When it rains in rural Kenya, many roads often become inaccessible for small trucks looking to aggregate produce. It becomes extremely difficult to transport agricultural produce from deeper and more rural locations to the larger markets of our cities. The lack of infrastructure simply does not allow for efficient transportation of food.
60% of Kenya’s productive land is idle
Kenya, in fact, has the land capacity to support the growing demand for food, yet our agriculture industry will soon be unable to feed us. Our issue is not that we lack fertile land for farming, it is that this land continues to remain idle.
So what is our solution?
The most obvious solution to our growing food crisis is simple; “Grow more food”.
But the real question is not what to do, it is how; how do we grow more food?
Adapting to new methods
Unfortunately, many farmers are stuck in their ways. Even when machinery and modern farming techniques are proven to increase the yield of their crops, they remain reluctant to learn. If we can create an environment which facilitates the education and transition into new methods of farming, farmers are likely to be more welcoming to newer techniques.
What may take a farmer several days with manual labor may take a machine a few hours. Agricultural mechanization is essential to the growth of Kenya’s agriculture industry. However, the biggest problem we face with Mechanization is how to give small scale farmers access to machinery they most likely can’t afford.
This is where Agribusiness comes in. Of recent times, various private institutions and non-governmental organizations are developing methods of giving greater accessibility to machinery for small-scale farmers. Many organizations even train farmers on how to use the machinery on their farms. These new approaches to helping farmers is bound to increase food output.
It seems counter-intuitive that modernization would be the key to improving our agricultural sector, but in fact, it is imperative. There are very many farmers with high quality farms that are inaccessible. At times the issue is not lack of good quality produce but rather, getting that produce to the right locations. Once our infrastructure improves, farmers are likely to get access to more markets and in turn, give us access to more food.
We can save ourselves
Though it is easy to throw our hands up and complain at the imminent food crisis, we also have the opportunity and responsibility to act. The fact that demand will soon outweigh supply of agricultural produce is reason enough for most business heads to sink their teeth in. Agribusiness is growing exponentially and we can all get our slice of the pie. The fact is that we all need food, and soon there will not be enough for all of us.