Roads, jobs, and food. These three are often the top demands of Kenyan voters. Wherever you travel in Kenya, people will complain about the bad state of local roads, lack of local jobs, food insecurity, and food prices.
Although the government has done a commendable job with roads, we still need to construct hundreds more kilometers of roads. According to the Kenya Roads Board, the length of the entire Road Network in Kenya is 160,886. Voters are therefore right to demand drastic expansion of this road network. Voters are also right in demanding exponential multiplication of jobs. In the same vein, food insecurity and food prices remain critical issues in our national conversation.
However, we must exhaustively address climate change, which is one of the root causes of food insecurity. As such, politicians cannot afford to treat climate change as a peripheral issue.
Last week, a group of 200 experts from the Global Challenges Research Fund conducted comprehensive research and concluded that unless we take urgent action, ‘crop failures, economic shocks and loss of livelihoods will intensify in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of climate change.
You just have to visit most parts of rural Kenya to confirm these findings. In recent years, crop failure has become the norm, leaving communities at a loss. Evidently, even the current heavy rains season seems to be going off-script. This is why we need to urgently and decisively transition into climate-smart agriculture that is not rain-dependent. Indeed, climate-smart agriculture is a double-edged sword that will slay both unemployment and food insecurity.
The Kenya Economic Report 2021 provides climate-smart agriculture interventions. They must become mainstream electoral issues.
In light of extended droughts, I suggest that drought-tolerant crop varieties need to be rolled out across the country. Institutes like the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are on the forefront of promoting and entrenching drought-resistant crops. We need to draw from their expertise and ensure that our farmers don’t plant crop varieties that will wilt and die due to erratic rainfall.
Thankfully, ICRISIAT is already doing these in parts of Kitui, Taita Taveta, and Makueni. Some of the drought-resistant crop varieties that farmers are already planting include green grams, sorghum, millets, pigeon peas, cowpeas, and groundnuts. Those who are seeking votes from Kenyans must address the mainstreaming of drought-resistant crops.
The 2021 Kenya Economic Report also talks about agroforestry. Despite agroforestry being a tried and tested climate-smart intervention, it continues to exist only on the fringes of agriculture. Cyrus Oguna, the Government spokesman recently urged farmers to embrace agroforestry. The incoming Government must however go a step further and facilitate farmers across Kenya to do so.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a quarter of the world’s 4.4 billion hectares (10.9 million acres) of cropland is degraded. Thousands of these degraded farmland hectares are right here in Kenya. Agroforestry will greatly boost land restoration efforts. 35,000 Kenyan farmers have witnessed this firsthand. They are part of the drylands development program that is rooted in agroforestry. Against this backdrop, voters must exert pressure on leaders to integrate agroforestry into their manifestos. Many of these leaders are not even aware of agroforestry’s sheer importance.
Another climate-smart intervention that must be part of our electoral conversation is organic farming. The Russia-Ukraine war has reminded us of organic farming’s utter importance. Peter Munya, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture recently told Parliament that, “We get most of our fertilizer from Russia and China and this war may see the price of fertilizer hit Sh7,000 if there will be no subsidy in place.”
We should take full advantage of this moment to further entrench organic farming into our society. Organic agriculture sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It does so by efficiently using natural resources in enhancing the fertility and composition of the soil. It is thus more beneficial in the long run.
Climate-smart agriculture is a vital electoral issue and must be treated as such. Think green, act green.