Monthly Archives: September 2011

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Change of attitude is all we need to attain food security:

Published on 03/09/2011 by the Standard Newspaper

By Patrick Ajwang’

Many Kenyans with basic formal education loiter in urban centres, looking for increasingly elusive factory or office jobs.

Many graduates from tertiary institutions are functionally unemployed, underemployed or misplaced (doing jobs they have not trained for), yet we live in country where 46 per cent of the population cannot afford basic food requirements and amenities.

This means there is a huge latent market for food. One may argue that most starving people have no income, thus cannot afford food. But the lack of income is only a symptom of an underlying problem, that of a laid-back attitude towards farming, especially among the energetic youth from rural communities.

For instance, it is common knowledge that a quarter hectare of land is enough to support a successful commercial poultry production for a smallholder farmer, assuming he can deploy appropriate technology, management and inputs.

And it is a fact the necessary technology and inputs for poultry production do exist in Kenya today. If each administrative location had 20 small-scale farms each producing 50 eggs and 20kgs of chicken per week, local schools could easily improve their diets by incorporating chicken and eggs in their menus.

Poultry farmers would get enough money to buy maize meal and other necessities, and even a surplus to pay school fees for their children. The farmers would naturally employ some farm hands and require the services of a transporter for the produce.

The farmers could also be suppliers to local shops and supermarkets, where the produce would fetch good prices. Unfortunately, chicken still stands out as a luxurious delicacy to the majority of Kenyans; the production levels are still simply too low to satisfy the latent demand. Yet poultry can be reared under virtually every climatic condition in Kenya.

One could extend the chicken example to other staples in our diet. Think of onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, herbal tea, traditional vegetables, fruits and other horticultural crops. These are hardly produced among the starving people.

Of course poor climate could be a strong reason why some crops cannot be produced in some areas. But the fact is, if you consider the medium-high potential agro-ecological zones in Kenya, the amount produced is still below the full potential. This is especially true of smallholder farmers.

Most of the young people in these poor families do not look at farming as a ready source of employment. There have been numerous cases where graduates from agricultural programmes from colleges have completely shifted to other fields because of the attitude problem.

Most young agricultural graduates aim at getting supervisory and management roles in Government or large-scale commercial firms dealing with horticulture and the main commodity crops like wheat, tea, coffee, sugarcane, and maize. The self-employment potential in family farm holdings below 5 hectares is still hidden to many graduates.

Well-trained self-employed young farmers and service providers have the potential to transform the rural economy into vibrant rural development case studies if they can put their knowledge and skills into good practice.

But they would require a true and practical champion of rural development focusing on smallholder agriculture in the country.

Since technical skills and credit for agribusiness start-ups is readily available in the economy today, a radical attitude change is necessary.

The writer teaches agricultural engineering and project management at JKUAT

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