World Food Day

Population growth outstrips food harvests

Agriculture experts have raised concern about the ability of Kenya to feed its fast growing population.

The experts say although the country was heading in the right direction in its efforts to produce food, a lot needed to be done to cement the rising production in readiness for the high population in a few years to come.

The country’s focus on subsistence farming was criticised with many speakers saying agriculture should not only allow farmers to only “subsist” but that is should be a dependable money-making venture.

They said the kind of farming where a farmer only focuses on planting crops and keeping animals for home consumption was to blame as it had held back the huge potential in the sector.

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Agriculture, Romano Kiome, hosted the debate at Nairobi’s Hilton Hotel last Wednesday.

It was meant to seek the way forward for the struggling food sector. The discussion was held ahead of the World Food Day, to be observed on Tuesday.

“Subsisting means we are barely floating, we can sink any time. Something has to change,” Dr Kiome said pointing at the continuing dependence on the small scale farming in the country hugely dependent on agriculture.

Debate centred on crucial areas that could improve agricultural production.

Mr Ousainou Ngum, the executive director Agency for Cooperative Development, stressed the need to improve governance and enhanced political will adding that the two ingredients were vital in achieving food sufficiency.

“We should be celebrating what we have achieved in the past not agonising about what we did not do,” Mr Ngum said while making his contribution. He added that cooperative societies were an indispensable entity in the agricultural sector.

“This country has the necessary markets and commercial outlets for farm produce, only that they are yet to be fully exploited,” he said in relation to a question on whether cooperative societies were useful at all in promoting the sector that is key to the nation’s economic growth.

The high cost of farm input and lack of an organised marketing system for products were further blamed for the poor performance of the sector.

Also, an existing mentality among some farmers that fertilisers were not a useful farming input also came under scrutiny with Agriculture Secretary Wilson Songa requesting farmers to “take the risk to use fertiliser” in order to improve productivity.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation has set 2012 as the year for Agricultural cooperatives and this year’s World Food Day focuses on empowering the societies.

The debate saw the participants shift focus to the cooperatives’ importance with Dr Kiome asking for “food co-operative societies.” He said there was a possibility of having them if the right mechanisms were put in place.

“Agricultural co-operatives play an important role in supporting small agricultural producers and marginalised groups such as young people and women. They empower their members economically and socially and create sustainable rural employment through business models that are more resilient to economic and environmental shocks,” said Mr Seno Nyakenyanya, the PS in the ministry of Cooperative Development.

Out of the more than 14,000 registered cooperative societies, about 38 per cent are agricultural marketing, 48 per cent financial-based and 14 per cent doing other activities, an indication that food societies was not a far-fetched idea.

World Food Programme country director Ronald Sibanda called for a ready market for farm produce. He also emphasised the importance of access to credit from banks.

“Such basic infrastructure as roads and banks to get money to expand their farming activities should be considered,” he said.

Last year, the ministry blamed the drought and poor food distribution for the skyrocketed food prices on essential foodstuffs such as maize and beans.

7 comments on “World Food Day

  1. Not bad at all!

    Herders turn to irrigated crop farming


    Pastoralists are turning to irrigated agriculture to boost food output.

    This follows the government’s increased funding for herders in arid and semi-arid zones of northern Kenya, who have turned to cultivating cotton and rice due to their low production costs and the attractive prices they fetch.

    Also picking up in the region is horticulture, which is helping pastoral communities to abandon cattle rustling and banditry.

    Boost food security

    More than Sh11.5 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in the last budget for irrigation to enhance food security.

    The government under the revival of irrigation scheme plan to boost food security has allocated more than Sh60 million for irrigation projects in Turkana County.

    Baringo North, Marigat and Pokot are the other areas where rice production has been introduced in Rift Valley Province.

    North Rift produced 852.6 tonnes of cotton from 794.5 hectares and 206 bags of rice from nine hectares last year.

    “The region has proved suitable to support agricultural production with high yields of fruits,” cotton farmer Jackson Chepting said.


  2. Sitting on a food time bomb

    A farmer carries a bunch of cassava roots in Oshogbo, Osun State in Nigeria. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is helping to promote agribusiness development in the cassava subsector in Nigeria to expose the virtues of a new strain of cassava: it yields 30 per cent more than usual and resistant to disease. Photo | AFP

    A high-level global council has thrown a lifeline for Africa to grow, develop and feed itself.

    The G8 Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition brings together the G8 countries, the African Union, Nepad and the World Economic Forum to address food insecurity.

    The council recognises that by 2050, the world population will reach nine billion people, yet at the moment, even with seven billion people, the world is not able to feed itself.

    With nearly 50 per cent growth in population, without arable land increasing, there is need to deploy strategies to deal with food insecurity.

    How do we ensure that the world population is receiving sufficient nutrition and how effectively can new policies be implemented?

    Looking at how financial systems can transform agriculture and food production on the continent, The Alliance on Food Security will focus on how Africa can feed the world.

    Sitting in the council are the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the CEO of Nepad, the president of the African Union and presidents of African countries participating in the pilot scheme which will be implemented in five African countries.

    The council will work with the G8 countries to extend support to African countries in rolling out a green revolution envisioned to see agricultural transformation in Africa.

    In many African countries, food security remains a great concern. To increase food production, several factors need to be considered.

    One, we must focus on agriculture as a business. Agriculture shouldn’t be taken as a mere occupation.

    Secondly, we must improve the quality of our agriculture by increasing value addition so that the sector attracts more skilled people.

    At the moment, agriculture is not well paying for those engaged in the sector. Many people are in agriculture by default and as a last resort to eke out a living and to survive.

    Making agriculture an attractive engagement will require modernisation of the farming methods.

    In the 21st Century, we can’t continue with traditional farming methods using implements like hoes and pangas.

    We also can’t wholly depend on rain-fed agriculture. As long as we allow agriculture to remain vulnerable to the vagaries of weather, it will remain unattractive.

    Unresolved paradox

    There is need to put our arable land under irrigation. Use of certified seeds, fertiliser and chemicals would see a huge improvement in our effort to attain food security.

    It is important to note the work The Alliance for a Green Revolution, AGRA, is doing across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment.

    Just to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the issue of food security in Africa, AGRA has set out to reduce food insecurity by 50 per cent in at least 20 countries by 2020, as well as double the incomes of 20 million small-holder families while at the same time putting 15 countries on track to attain and sustain a green revolution.

    This is a clear testimony that AGRA is convinced that Africa has the capacity to feed itself.

    The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will pilot-test in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi, Burkina-Faso and Ghana.

    The idea is to create food corridors that become intensely focused on food production and the G8 will support the roll out with financial support.

    The youth need to be incentivised to utilise their level of education, intellect and energy to transform agriculture.

    To execute this thinking will require availing finance, use of modern inputs like certified seeds, chemicals, fertiliser, technology and markets to the youth as well as agriculture education.

    At least 85 per cent of Africa’s population is engaged in agriculture. If agriculture is transformed, that would mean transforming 85 per cent of Africa’s population.

    If the continent has 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, 64 per cent of the world’s minerals and has a billion people most of whom are young, why has it been in a cycle of poverty?

    Part of the challenge is that Africa lacked the visionary leadership and entrepreneurial spirit to convert the factors of production into income.

    Africa accounts for only 2 per cent of the world trade yet the continent covers 20 per cent of the world space and a substantial proportion of the world population are on the continent.

    This is a paradox that requires to be resolved; a continent endowed with riches yet ravaged by poverty.

    Dr Mwangi is a member of the G20 Advisory Board on Agriculture & G8 New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition. He is Equity Bank’s CEO.


  3. Food security stable after bumper harvest: report

    Farmers had in their custody 10.3 million bags at the end of last month, up from 9.6 million in August. The increase was largely attributed to a good harvest. Photo/FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

    The country’s food security is stable following good maize harvests from the long rains, the Ministry of Agriculture has said.

    According to its latest food security report, the ministry notes that as at September 30, Kenya had 17.3 million maize stocks up from 16 million bags at the end of August.

    This number is, however, expected to increase since harvesting in parts of Central, Western, Rift Valley and Northern parts of Eastern provinces is still going on.

    Farmers had in their custody 10.3 million bags at the end of last month, up from 9.6 million in August. The increase was largely attributed to a good harvest.

    The report also shows that due to increased grain availability, millers’ stocks declined to 2.6 million bags from 3.5 million bags while traders’ stocks increased to 2.2 million bags from 1.8 million bags respectively during the same period.

    “In general, prices of most basic food commodities continue to improve although the overall Consumer Price Index increased marginally by 0.29 per cent to 131.89 from 131.51 during the period due to improved demand for processed and secondary products.”

    The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says the marginal increase of the CPI is mainly attributed to increased demand for the secondary products.

    “Although there was decline in prices of basic food commodities such as maize, beans, sukuma wiki (kales) tomatoes, onions and carrots, there was also increased demand for processed and animal products such as sugar, beef, eggs, among others, leading to slight increase in their prices,” reads part of the report.

    Although prices of most commodities have declined, the report says the prices of wheat have increased due to projected low supplies in the US and Russia — countries from which Kenya traditionally imports wheat.

    The national wheat stocks stood at 2,395,670 bags in September compared to 2,456,140 bags in August.

    “The decline is due to reduced local supplies as harvesting of long rains crop winded up in most places. In addition, wheat imports from overseas countries declined during the month of September compared to August 2012,” the report notes.



    Kenya’s population growth rate is one of the highest in the world and her ability to feed this population is going to present a major challenge to the country very soon if mechanisms are not put in place right now to address the problem in a few years’ time.
    I like the idea that somebody at the ministry of agriculture is aware of this time-bomb in the making and actually initiated a debate on it to mark the World Food Day. I read their solutions to this problem and it is in this light that I also decided to add my voice.

    Stable Food Prices: Food prices play an important role in food security. Highly volatile prices send mixed signals to the food growers since they are not able to plan food production efficiently. Hence the need to have a system in place that ensures price stability. This can be done by ensuring enough buffer stocks for food products that can be stored for long e.g. maize and wheat. This way supply can always be matched with the increasing demand as the population grows and the price kept stable.

    Proper Rain Management: Kenya has sufficient rain which if stored and not allowed to go to waste through floods, can be used to irrigate farms when faced with a dry spell. There is therefore an urgent need for the country to build more dams to store the excess rain in readiness for the dry season.

    Large Scale Irrigation Projects: Areas like the former NE Province have been left fallow since Independence. That so called desert is able to produce enough food to not only feed the people living there but also augment the total national food production. That is why I found it prudent on the part of the Prime Minister of Kenya to have made the initiation of large scale irrigation projects in the former NE Province a priority in his office. If my information is correct, the Israelis have agreed to assist Kenya turn the desert into a green field.

    Elimination of Absentee Landlords: In Kenya, some few individuals own large swathes of land suitable for agriculture but which are left to lie idle year after year and yet the country has many landless people who could buy some parcels and use for food production in the country. This is where genuine land reforms in the country should help so that people do not own land the sizes of which they cannot even manage. It is ridiculous that one Kenyan family should own land the size of the former Nyanza Province and which they cannot fully put to economic use to help alleviate food shortages.

    Increased Trade and Improved Market Access: There should be a highly developed infrastructure in place to open up all parts of Kenya to promote more inter-trade within the Kenyan boundaries. This will see production of various products go up since a market can be easily accessed within Kenya and in turn lead to increased trade and thus higher incomes.

    Improved Rural Economic Policies: The government through the ministry of agriculture should come up with uniform and harmonized rural economic polices for all the rural areas in Kenya. It cannot be that when it comes to subsidies, only high valued export products like tea, flowers and coffee are favoured at the expense of other agricultural produces like sugar cane, cotton farming etc. These traditional farmers get very limited technical and financial support. Cash transfers to poor farmers, input subsidies and credit facilities can help these folks improve their production capacities.

    Get Rid of Outdated Culture/Traditions: Most tribes in Kenya practice a rather outdated tradition of subdividing land upon inheritance. Instead of members of the same family living in and sharing one homestead and using the inherited land for farming, you will find every man using the inherited land to start his own homestead thus reducing land left for agricultural purposes. This process of subdividing inherited land has continued through many generations such that today many farms owned by a given family in the rural areas are no more that a hectare in size. And it is the depletion of income potential by subdividing land that is causing all the rural-urban migration especially by the young and energetic who should be the backbone of rural farming in the first place.


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