Agriculture holds the promise but only with right policies

Saturday February 28 2015

Kenya's approval of the long term programmes for agricultural extension, development and research to increase agricultural productivity is a move in the right direction.

The country could overcome the challenge of feeding its people and attain better livelihood by introducing reforms and intervention measures to revamp the agricultural sector.

The grain sector has for long been faced with challenges of adopting modern production techniques to increase crop yield and time has come for the sector to be revitalised.

Farming should be taken as a business venture just like any other sector for crop producers to be motivated to earn better returns.

However, there is a discontent by farmers on why the agriculture sector is facing a crisis.

Kenya relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture and many irrigation schemes were revived or started to help improve agricultural production and reduce dependency on rains in the last regime.

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Farmers now want similar measures to be undertaken to motivate them to increase acreage under cultivation of the crop.

Recently, the world food body Food and Agriculture Organisation issued a warning of global food shortage, Kenya included, and the situation is likely to be worsened by likelihood of declined acreage under cultivation since most farmers have been demotivated by poor prices.

Maize prices in Rift Valley, the country’s food basket for example have declined to as low as Ksh1,200 ($14) as middlemen exploit farmers.

Maize production in Rift Valley declined from 21 million bags to 16 million bags last season following outbreak of maize lethal disease and erratic climate condition-drought.

But farmers in the region are now contemplating reducing acreage under cultivation of maize due to lack of capital and rising cost of farm inputs-- fertiliser and seeds.

Farmers say prices of fertiliser remain high and that most of them cannot afford, rendering agriculture as non-profit making venture. 

The liberalisation of the economy, especially the opening up of the East African Community (EAC), has exposed maize farmers to unfair competition. There is, thus, a need to introduce incentives to motivate farmers to continue cultivating the crop to earn profit and sustain the country’s food security.

Some traders import maize from the neighbouring Uganda which harvests the crop earlier than Kenya and stock the produce to await National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to open stores and dispose of the produce to the state body thus making a kill, while farmers continue to live in abject poverty.

According to most farmers, the Kenya government has not done enough to protect them from effects of “arid” liberalisation of the agricultural sector.

Farmers want the agriculture sector to have encouraging policies to enable them to invest in crop production as a protective venture.

The farmers feel the Ministry of Agriculture is not handling the docket with the seriousness it deserves and want fertilisers given at the right time, for example.

Agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy; there is no way we can achieve development and food security if more effort is not put in the sector to increase crop production and avert famine, which is being witnessed in some parts of the country.

Lowering taxes on farm machineries and having county governments in grain growing areas prioritise the availability of the resources (farm inputs and machineries) will motivate farmers to increase crop production.

Availability of the farm machineries at affordable rates is one of the that grain farmers need to increase crop production and for the country to attain food security.

Plans by the government to set up a fertiliser plant in the region will enable farmers to get the commodity at affordable prices besides being availed to them ahead of the planting season.

Some of the natural calamities like diseases, drought, and floods are major setbacks in the agricultural sector.  The previous guaranteed minimum returns used to cushion farmers against losses in an event of such calamities before it was withdrawn several years ago.

This policy of guaranteed returns should be reintroduced for crop production and food security to be attained and spare Kenyans from death by starvation.

Bethuel Kaino,
Nairobi

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