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The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) has this past week cancelled the debt owed to them by a large number of Kenyan farmers. Debts have been waivered in an effort to improve agriculture in the country, which is targeted at improving food production by small-scale farmers. Debt removal will allow farmers to reinvest revenues into their farms rather than on paying back loans. This is seen as a food security initiative by the government; although they have been many genuine farmers who have fallen victim to harsh realities of Kenyan agriculture, many who borrowed from AFC misused funds on non-agricultural activities. Or maybe its time for a new agricultural lending and borrowing agency that caters to small-scale farmers, where lending is done at a micro-financial level. Creating an ideal situation where farmers can ask for money targeted to specific on-farm investments and will also be able to receive guidance on how to deal with debt.

The potential for Sub-Saharan African countries to produce their own food exits, recently a trend for Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia to secure arable land in Africa has increased. Buying out leases for thousands of acres to grow food, which is then shipped to the mother country. Is a worrying scenario for African countries as they lose the potential to grow food for domestic consumption? Instead African governments should partner with these countries to bolster the capacity to grow food domestically, by providing physical capital and expertise. If they can afford to lease land it means African countries have the potential to grow food for domestic as well as foreign consumption. The above mentioned is not a secret, the lack of agricultural investment is truly lacking on the continent, and if governments continually fail to protect their land very soon Africans shall be receiving food aid that is produced in their backyards.

The economic stimulus program for small-scale farmers got some heat a few weeks ago when Nation Media House unearthed the smuggling of fertilizer targeted to alleviate small-scale agriculture in Kenya. This week the same media house identified some positive things ongoing with the program, rice farmers from Budalangi, Western Kenya have benefited from an irrigation scheme. Although this has been very beneficial the importation of rice from other nations like Pakistan have caused low prices to downplay the bumper harvest experienced by rice farmers. The government needs to have proactive trade policies that are responsive to agricultural production in the country. Where when domestic agricultural output is high presumably in the rainy season protectionism is high to and when agricultural output is low, low barriers to agricultural trade should follow.

Jatropha curcas is a tree species native to the American tropics, its seeds are used to produce oil used for bio-fuels. An initiative to grow this tree has taken off in the coastal province of Kenya, where Kenya Jatropha Energy (KJE) has pushed for its adaptation and cultivation because it’s cleaner and more sustainable than conventional fuels. The problem here lies in the approach taken that requires clearing out indigenous forests as an excuse to curb the effects of global warming. Furthermore, the residents of the area  are not amused, as the effects of planting Jatropha seem double sided; Jatropha has low yields, its toxic to the environment and poisonous. In a country where food production and environmental tourism are major income earnersthis is both environmentally and ethically irresponsible.

Bullring guilty

This past week I showed up for work at the Bullring, an on-campus café, and was told that we were showing the film “Food Inc.” shortly after our dinner rush. The popular film showcases the many horrors of the industrial agriculture phenomenon; there are many scenes that vividly illustrate common practices of animal cruelty. I found the situation curious: watching chickens being slaughtered as I was taking an order for a chicken asiago sandwich. Not surprisingly, I received several comments from customers along the lines of, “why on earth would you choose to show this here?”

“Just some food for thought” was my reply.

Last year the Agricultural Ministry in Kenya was found in a tight spot over the illegal selling of relief food aid in the domestic market. This situation distorted local prices and sidelined local farmers who had worked hard to produce food under drought conditions. This year an equally degrading story was unraveled by a local News network NTV Kenya, that has found A private sector firm illegally selling government subsidized fertilizers in the Kenyan market. Fertilizers, which are destined for small-scale farms in an effort to improve yields, never reached their proposed destinations. Yields would have been particularly high given that Kenya has in recent months experienced El Niño rain phenomenon, resulting yields would have secured food sources in a food insecure nation, for the rest of the year. Once again Agriculture efficiency is battered by the degree of corruption alive in Kenya.

The African Rice Center has done great things for food security in the continent. Breeding hybrid varieties of rice that are  resilient to harsh climatic conditions, have proved to be very productive for many poor farmers in the region. The rice consumption of rice is really high in West Africa and is growing steadily around the continent. In East and Southern Africa corn is the staple food,  governments should invest highly in the research and development (R & D) of this staple. Otherwise the harsh climatic condition which are projected to get worse with gobal warming will continue to reduce the effectivness of the African farmer.

Solar madness

Just when I thought the government did not do enough to tap into solar energy I have found that with the help of NGOs.  Solar powered weather stations are being installed to help poor farmers improve their farming. Through providing farmers with weather conditions. So they can know when they can plant the right type of crops they can produce for a season. Solar powerd stations can be accessed in poor and very marginalized areas in the country to grow crops like the rest of the country.

In a continent with 12 months of sunshine the need to tap into solar power has seriously been lacking.  Many countries in the region invest in hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power during rainy seasons supplies ample electricity but during dry seasons and drought years a reduction in water levels deem electric supply unreliable.  Agriculture is greatly affected by droughts and in these harsh periods is when food shortages are most common. An initiative in Benin, which harnesses solar power to pump water for irrigation, could greatly save farmers and the African mass at large. African governments should make efforts to duplicate and enhance such projects as the one showcased in the video below to buffer the effects of drought and dry season vulnerability.

Small-scale farm holder’s account for over 70% of agricultural production in Kenya. Most of the households engage in agricultural production as a family unit. This means that children are used to help during peak agriculture times, harvesting and planting predominantly. These peak times mean a large percentage of pupils are absent from school during these periods. School absenteeism is also high during drought season where pastoralist families need all the labour they can get to graze cattle. This phenomenon has not been captured in the education system, addressing this issue will mean marginalized communities who rely heavily on subsistence agricultural activities will be able to perform well in school and have more opportunities through education.