It is never an easy ride in Kenya. When it rains, it is tragedy, and when it doesn’t it is still tragedy. Call it the Kenyan Paradox. Agriculture contributes to up to two-thirds (33%) of our GDP, even after considering the fact that a large proportion of agricultural produce is used in the subsistence level. During the launch of the Kenyan Economic Update at the Norfolk Fairmount, World Bank Kenya Agriculture lead economist Ladisy Komba, was quick to highlight some of the problems that hinder full agricultural growth, including; Low quality input rates, distorted input and output markets, minimal adoption of modern production technologies, low investment in infrastructure, climate change among others.
Whereas the challenge of climate change is beyond our control and is only dependent on the hand of God, our preparation for it and reaction has been woeful, to say the least. The delay of long rains and the prolonged drought in various parts of the country can be and should have been anticipated and adequately countered. Poor smallholder farmers are among the hardest hit with this. Climate change is not and should never be treated as a surprise. The history of drought in Kenya should have by now led to well curated response mechanism. The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya make up to 89% of the country, covering 29 counties and a population of about 16 million, and therefore boosting our agricultural capability is a great pre-requisite for economic growth and poverty reduction in Kenya.
22% of our agricultural expenditure is used to finance inputs, for instance fertilizer subsidy. This is a huge fraction of our expenditure, and the question we ought to ask ourselves, is what if such an amount is diverted to the development of small holder irrigation schemes, wouldn’t it provoke farmers to spend on the inputs with the assurance of returns? A country like Uganda uses up much less fertilizer compared to Kenya but has a higher maize production yields. Isn’t this enough to warrant a shift in our approach to agricultural financing? It’s worth noting that you can never think of agriculture without water as the foundation of your thoughts. It is the starting point and the building blocks upon which farming is dependent on.
Our agricultural practice in Kenya requires a huge reform. The dependency on maize, whenever we think of food security, should by now be washed away. Statistics are quick to note that of the six Agro-ecological zones in Kenya, only 5% of this is arable as far as Maize is concerned. This calls for diversification by resorting to other crops like Cassava, potatoes and at the same time initiate the building of irrigation schemes in areas like Tana River where we can have robust maize production that can add up to our exports. Afghanistan which is poorer than Kenya has about 3 million Hectares of land covered in irrigation compared to Kenya’s 200,000 Hectares. We need to improve on this through the Private Public and people partnerships. Improving our alkaline lands and reclamation of Saline-Sodic and Sodic Soils is also necessary and can be done through having an effective drainage system and the availability of good-quality irrigation water so that salts can be leached from the soil
Therefore, we need to think of investing more of our financial resources in irrigation and designing ways to manage our water. This increases our production yields and allows farmers to move to higher value crops. Considering effective methods like drip irrigation and harvesting water from paved surfaces and during excess rainfall periods. This can be stored in; hand dugs wells, used for artificial groundwater recharge, polythene lined earth dams and subsurface dams which will transform the agricultural sector. Digitalizing agriculture will improve productivity in that area. In India, for instance, text message weather updates are helping farmers to make improved decisions about when to plant and harvest. Such small, but important initiatives go along away in boosting the sector.