Call to change farming systems

A man visits a Randan stand dealing in mushrooms during the 2023 Agri-Africa Expo and Conference at KICC

A man visits a Randan stand dealing in mushrooms during the 2023 Agri-Africa Expo and Conference at KICC in Nairobi on May 9, 2023.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Food security and hunger in Kenya will be fully addressed if farming systems, which are currently largely rain-fed, are reviewed. 

Speaking during the official opening of the Agri-Africa Expo and Conference yesterday at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Secretary Josphat Muhunyu said unless the systems are improved, Kenya will continue experiencing food shortages.

He called for the adoption of water harvesting technologies and irrigation to spur growth in the sector.

The agricultural sector, which is often touted as the backbone of Kenya’s economy, pulled other sectors down in 2022 according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’s Economic Survey 2023. The poor performance was occasioned by the prolonged drought, which was cited as the worst in 40 years.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Kenya is among the countries hard hit by the devastating effects of climate change in the sub-Saharan Africa region.

“The drought taught us lessons; investing more in agricultural infrastructure such as water harvesting is important,” Mr Muhunyu said.

He added that the government, through public-private partnerships, is working to develop sustainable systems.

“We are targeting government and institutions’ underutilised lands for food crops production and building dams and pans for water harvesting,” he said.

The country is currently receiving heavy rains, with some regions experiencing floods that have swept away crops and animals and killed people. 

Innovative agricultural solutions

Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) Chief Executive Officer Joseph Murabula observed that the adoption of innovative agricultural solutions will enable the country to achieve long-term productivity and food safety.

“Apart from water harvesting, there is a raft of innovations in the sector we can employ, such as regenerative agriculture, use of vertical gardens in greening cities and urban areas and adopting drought tolerant crops that are early maturing and high yielding,” he said.

Mr Murabula regretted that the country has numerous agriculture start-ups with innovative ideas on agriculture but policies hinder their implementation.

“Scaling up innovations needs the right policies in place. Some of these innovations are ahead of the policies we have as a country. For instance, a young farmer may explore value addition but the government may not allow marketing of the products,” he explained.

Post-harvest losses have also been identified as a major hindrance to food security. With 30 per cent of Kenyan produce going to waste post-harvest, value addition and processing are key to saving the yields.

“Kenya is re-engineering its farming systems, and we encourage all kinds of initiatives around value addition. The nation, just like other African countries, has huge potential in agriculture but due to lack of appropriate infrastructure, we are unable to tap them,” said Crop Development Principal Secretary Philip Harsama.

With agriculture and livestock being a devolved function, former Kiambu Governor James Nyoro said the sector’s success depends on the involvement of the devolved units. Dr Nyoro, who is in the food export business, said the national government should channel more resources to counties to bring to light the many innovations at the grassroots level.

This is the first edition of the Agri-Africa Expo and Conference, organised by Agri-Africa Exhibitions Ltd in partnership with pa KCIC and Nation Media Group, among others.

Over 150 local and international exhibitors are attending, providing farmers with a forum for learning about modern technologies, innovations, value addition, smart agriculture solutions, irrigation systems and ideas for sustainable growth.