Future of Kenya’s agriculture sector

Posted on September 9, 2016 12:18 am

Kenya is currently the largest East African economy although analysts have predicted Tanzania will overtake it in the next few years as the region’s economic powerhouse.Both countries depend with agriculture sector to grow their economies and employs the highest number of population.Agriculture today is a very sophisticated and highly technical industry.In Kenya it has become one of the country’s most innovative and efficient industries.Kenyan farmers have remained competitive in East Africa regional food market despite Kenya having low levels of subsidies relative to Tanzania and Uganda.The ability of agriculture industry to adapt, innovate and form successful collaborations will continue to support a strong and prosperous Kenya with sustainable food security.For Kenya, food security is inextricably linked to the political stability of the country and has the potential to affect its national security.Food security also affects the status of health and wellbeing of Kenyan population. The likelihood of a food crisis directly affecting Kenya is remote given that it has enjoyed affordable, safe and high quality food for many decades although it produces less food today to feed 40 million people. the estimated population of the country.Addressing food security problem will depend upon the development and delivery of technologies that lead to increased food production like the much publicised Isreal’s backed Galana irrigation project. But this must be achieved without increasing the area under production, since arable land is now limited, and under conditions where the frequency and severity of climate shocks are likely to increase due to the effects of climate change.Being realistic about growth.Kenya’s previous reliance on water and energy to drive up yields is not an option for the next phase of productivity gains.Agriculture has an excellent record of productivity growth over the post independence period, allowing global production to meet the large population increase and, these gains have kept food prices relatively affordable while keeping farmers in business.Kenya’s agricultural production has remained important to its economy because it has effectively developed and delivered new technologies through a strong research base and a highly skilled and innovative farming community. In particular, Kenya has been able to maintain current position even though it produces food on some of the driest inhabited regions in East Africa, on low quality soils and with continual climate variability.

Kenya’s agricultural Research and Development capability ranks among the best in Africa, and more recently Kenya has developed a strong capability in climate change research including studies on impacts, adaptation and mitigation.Kenya can now implement this capability to enhance agricultural production.These strengths provide a solid foundation to catalyse transformation of the agricultural industries to address Kenya’s food security.Overall, Kenya can make a significant contribution to the task because it has extensive experience in dealing with difficult and low input productions systems. Indeed, Kenya will have little choice given the predicted impact of climate change on its agricultural production areas.The future in food production will lie within Kenya’s current large scale farming systems where there’s clear skills and scope for increased efficiency rather than niche foods where high labour costs and low innovation make it hard for us to complete.The country will have to move to a scene where engineering and biology are intimately linked. Use of drones and satellites to provide data on crop and rangeland health and productivity will have to be part of Kenya’s plan. This information will need to be a combination of ground data and used as the basis for farm management decisions.That will help Kenyan researchers know the detailed genetic makeup of farm animals and crops and will have ability to use association between the genetic makeup and the physical characteristics to predict performance under a diverse set of environmental conditions.Such information will feed into the decisions made by breeders to develop new crop cultivars or animal breeds to optimise the use of available resources while minimising the environmental impact of farming.Kenyan farmers are already using computer models to assess the status of their soils, crops and farming systems to support their decision making.In the future farmers will also be capturing data from even more diverse sources, linking this to genetic information and predictive climate models and using the result to help them decide when to sow their crops, when to apply fertilisers, how to protect crops from disease and when to harvest especially in Western and Rift Valley regions.Arguably, Kenya’s greatest contribution to agricultural innovation will be through developing solutions to food security challenges and delivering these solutions to East African Community partners around the region. Agricultural research capability in Kenya has the potential to become a significant industry in its own right.In the future, I think Kenya should build management, regulatory and support structures and build strong multinational research programs like Kenya Agriculture Research Institute has done over the years that can support food security in Kenya and also ensure farmers have access to the latest technologies.

Contador Harrison