Smallholder farmers key to nourishing Kenyans

Rwandan TED Speaker Christian Benimana recently reminded us during his TED Talk ( that by 2050 Africa’s predicted population of 2.5 billion will need 700,000,000 more housing units, 300,000 schools and 100,000 health care centres. To reach these already daunting figures there are even more daunting figures.

Every day for the next 35 years we have to build 7 health centers, 25 schools, and nearly 60,000 housing units.

Every single day.

Christian suggests that to meet these targets Africa must adopt an African centric model of development and has some great ideas to share on the same.

The predictions of growth on the African continent are sobering, and the need to scale infrastructure and services for this growth in merely 30 years, gives us a sense of urgency. We have a lot in our favour. We are the worlds largest and least populated continent and have the youngest population, however it is one of the only regions in the world where childhood stunting is on the increase. Today 59 million children suffer from stunting. Put into perspective, this figure is higher than the entire population of Kenya. Africa is failing to nourish her people.

Looking closer to home, in Kenya, agriculture is said to be the back bone of the economy and contributes significantly to GDP, yet we currently import 30% of our food products, mainly staples, and it is predicted that by 2050, this figure will have reached 85%. By this time our population of the day will be 95m with over 5m suffering from severe malnutrition compared with todays 2.6m. The predictions are grim. And in the face of climate change, they are likely to be worse.

But do they have to be?

We know that climate change is increasingly taking it’s toll on agriculture and we also know how to mitigate the same. We know we need to build our soils and conserve water. We know we need to grow more nutritious short term crops, vegetables and fruit. We know we need to focus on livestock that are adapted to our climate, feeds , diseases and production systems. We know we need to grow trees to capture carbon and produce fuel. We know we need to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. We know we need to build farmer resilience in the face of climate change and one of the best ways is through crop diversity. We know we need to build farmer family health and immunity, and the same for livestock and crops. We know 78% of our food crops depend on pollinators and we need to conserve them. And we know that all of the above can be achieved through regenerative agricultural practices, which include zero tillage, mulching, composting, water harvesting, cropping and livestock diversity, agroecology, agro forestry and so on.

But whilst we know all this , we seem to be back peddling.

Rather than advocating for regenerative agriculture, our agricultural policies in cases, do precisely the opposite. They promote synthetic inputs, fertilisers and pesticides, some of which are banned internationally, and restrict use of natural fertilisers like farmyard manure and the use of harvested rainwater for crop irrigation.

Agricultural finance is another major issue that works against food security. Currently finance is hardly available for the millions of smallholders who underpin Kenyas food and nutrition security. And where finance is available , it is expensive and ill fitting often resulting in debt and blacklisting. With little in terms of securities accepted by large banking institutions, smallholder farmers resort to expensive credit and loans peddled by numerous mobile lenders with monthly interest rates between 5-43%, translating to 92-521% annually. Recent reports show that 2.7 million Kenyans are black listed by CRB most for defaulting on borrowing only 1000 shillings.

Are these gamblers, the youth, farmers?

Irrespective of who they are these predatory loans may be paralysing development and possibly food and nutrition security.

So what needs to be done.

Firstly, knowledge on regenerative agriculture should be made available to farmers, for free 24/7 and Policies and incentives should be formulated that support the same. It can be done. Due to low levels of agricultural extension services in Kenya, Green Dreams TECH Ltd developed this agricultural platform iCow that teaches farmers regenerative agriculture through their mobile phones, both low end and smart phones.

Farmers who are on the platform and execute the lessons they receive, begin to see increases in yields, incomes and profitability within 3 months. Within a year they are doubling their yields.

iCow teaches farmers how to optimise productivity in crops and livestock production and increase farmer family nutrition, whilst building resilience in the face of climate change. And to do so at minimal cost, simply by adopting new practices aligned with nature.

The platform is being used by hundreds of thousands of farmers in Kenya, catalysing economic growth and prosperity from the ground up whilst drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. 

If we are to feed our nation, we need to recalibrate our agricultural policies.

We need to let science and sense be the drivers of agricultural development and not the agenda of input providers. We need to scale regenerative agricultural extension services across the country as quickly as possible. By using ICT based systems like iCow and adjusting policies this can be done at haste and at very low cost, and Kenya can lead a new model of agriculture that produces nourishing food for the African continent.

We also need to educate farmers on financial literacy as well as design financial solutions that are farmer centric. 

And lastly, we need to recognise, nurture, honour and incentivise our smallholder farmers for the climate warrior services they provide us. The backbone of the Kenyan economy is made up of the backbones of millions of our smallholder farmers. Most do not even have health insurance. Let’s rethink this too. They are carrying you and I.

 Article : iCow CEO, Su Kahumbu, September 22nd 2019.


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