A New Sunrise in Agriculture Only Possible if We Can Feed Ourselves

Most Kenyans do not real­ize that one fifth of the food on their tables is import­ed. It could be that apple they munch just after fin­ish­ing the main course – it may be from South Africa; or that Span­ish omelet they gob­ble the fol­low­ing morn­ing – it could be from Ugan­da. It could also be the pas­ta they devour lat­er that evening – it’s prob­a­bly from Italy.

Even more telling is the fact that on numer­ous occa­sions, the ugali we con­sume is cooked using flour from import­ed maize. I wish to share use­ful data com­bined by Kenya Asso­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers (KAM).

Every year, each Kenyan eats an aver­age 70 kilo­grams of maize and maize prod­ucts. Despite this wide­spread con­sump­tion of maize, we don’t pro­duce suf­fi­cient maize to meet our needs. Accord­ing to the 2022 Eco­nom­ic Sur­vey, aggre­gate maize pro­duc­tion decreased from 42.1 mil­lion bags in 2020 to 36.7 mil­lion bags in 2021.

Despite Kenya’s glar­ing maize deficit, we con­tin­ue to pro­duce less maize that we con­sume. Our farm­ers are cur­rent­ly pro­duc­ing eight 90kg-bags of maize per acre yet the opti­mal yield per acre is fif­teen 90kg-bags. This under­per­for­mance is even worse in the rice sec­tor where farm­ers are cur­rent­ly pro­duc­ing 15 bags of rice per acre against an opti­mal yield of 35 bags per acre.

In 2021, Kenyans con­sumed 800,000 tonnes of rice. Out of these, only 186,000 tonnes were local­ly pro­duced. The rest – approx­i­mate­ly 631,000 tonnes – had to be import­ed. Things were just as bad with wheat. Out of the near­ly 2.2 mil­lion tonnes of wheat that we con­sumed in 2021, almost 1.9 mil­lion was import­ed. For us to cre­ate more jobs, grow our econ­o­my and achieve food secu­ri­ty, this tra­jec­to­ry must stop.

Now, water and fer­til­iz­er are two con­trib­u­tors to our agri­cul­tur­al underperformance.

Fer­til­iz­ers improve sup­ply of nutri­ents in the soil, con­se­quent­ly nour­ish­ing plant growth and increas­ing the sub­se­quent yield. Thank­ful­ly, there may now be suf­fi­cient fer­til­iz­er through the Government’s sub­sidy pro­gram. How­ev­er, abun­dance of fer­til­iz­er will be ren­dered use­less if rains will delay as has been the case in recent years. That’s why we must sup­port the main­stream­ing of irri­ga­tion-cen­tered cli­mate smart agri­cul­ture in the country.

Pres­i­dent Ruto has in umpteenth times reit­er­at­ed the impor­tance of irri­ga­tion. He has revealed plans to dou­ble the land under irri­ga­tion to 1.4 mil­lion acres in the next three years.

The Pres­i­dent has also com­mit­ted to for­mal­ize the long-await­ed Cli­mate Change Coun­cil which he will chair. This shall lend the Coun­cil immense pow­ers. Among oth­er duties, the Coun­cil will approve and over­see imple­men­ta­tion of the Nation­al Cli­mate Change Action Plan. For sure Cli­mate Smart Agri­cul­ture must be at the heart of this plan.

Cli­mate Smart Agri­cul­ture will trans­form our agri­cul­ture from rain-fed sub­sis­tence farm­ing to irri­ga­tion-fed com­mer­cial farm­ing that will boost both food secu­ri­ty and sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. Indeed, it’s pos­si­ble for maize, rice and wheat to fol­low in the foot­steps of tea.

Tea is our lead­ing for­eign exchange earn­er. In 2021, we earned Sh130 bil­lion from it.  This was almost twice the Sh77 bil­lion that Safari­com, East and Cen­tral Africa’s most prof­itable com­pa­ny, earned in the same year.

Despite the high tea export earn­ings, we can gen­er­ate more rev­enue from our tea. Only five per­cent of the export­ed tea had val­ue added into it. In a recent meet­ing with the Pres­i­dent, the Kenya Asso­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­posed that we should increase val­ue addi­tion from the cur­rent 5% to 50%. If we do so, we will earn bil­lions more because low val­ue addi­tion robs us of approx­i­mate­ly Sh 1,300 per kilo of tea exported!

It’s time to invest more into our agri­cul­tur­al pro­duce and get more out of it. If we do so, we will dras­ti­cal­ly increase the 22.4 per­cent that agri­cul­ture cur­rent­ly con­tributes to the GDP. That will cre­ate thou­sands of decent and well-pay­ing agri­cul­tur­al jobs. Think green, act green!


About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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