Is it not possible for Kenya to become World’s breadbasket? Indeed, that can only happen if we start producing surplus food. Currently, we are producing less than what we need, we then sell off to buy farm inputs and so we have to import more food. The net effect is that, in 2019, Kenya imported maize worth Ksh4. 2 billion from Tanzania. In 2020, the country faced yet another maize deficit and imported approximately 277,350 tones (3.1 million 90kg bags), mostly from Uganda and Tanzania. This year, the maize deficit is so steep that we are told that Kenya will be forced to import beyond the East African community. Of course, there is an ungodly narrative behind these importations which is a story for a different day.
Indeed, a deliberate food production revolution might just be what Kenya needs to feed all her people, sell surplus food and turbo-charge the economy. After all, Denmark with a population of 5.5 Million people produces food for 100 Million people! They are World’s number one in food industry innovation. The genesis of this revolution is in our mindsets.
Primarily, we must move away from micro-production to macro-production. Smallholder farming in its current state can never deliver surplus food and sustainable profits. We may not be able to do away with small farms but we can do away with smallholder farming mentality and practices. This approach has worked well in Nigeria for a tomato agribusiness.
Tomato Jos is a Nigerian agro-processing company that focuses on local production of high-quality tomato paste for the Nigerian market. Before building a factory for tomato paste production, the company planted high quality tomatoes. They then integrated smallholder farmers into planting such high quality tomatoes. At that juncture, they established a factory for processing the tomatoes into tomato paste. Through this model, smallholder tomato farmers were integrated into a large-scale tomato ecosystem.
If it can happen in Nigeria, it can definitely happen in Kenya. One of our 47 Counties can decide to become a tomato superpower. That County can then enact conducive tomato investment policies and put in place a reliable infrastructure for investors. Such action will attract investors who will set up world-class tomato processing factories like Tomato Jos.
Every County in Kenya can specialize on one or two agricultural products, align their budgets to develop and become the best in producing those products. As I have refereed umpteenth times, Japan took this approach and eventually reaped handsome dividends. In 1979, the late Dr. Morihiko Hiramatsu was Governor of Ōita Prefecture, Japan’s equivalent of a County. He rolled out the ‘One Village One Product’ (OVOP) initiative. In this development model, a village would select a product unique to its region and focus exclusively on producing that product.
This is the model that Kenya’s 47 Counties can follow to detach its citizenry from poverty.
For fifty-three years, I have witnessed my own lovely mother Deborah Kalua farm various crops and keep domestic animals. But she has never made money out of these smallholder farming ventures. Just like millions of Kenyans don’t we owe her a sustainable approach to her agricultural adventure?
With a very tiny population engaged in agriculture, according to Statista the Danish food market in 2022 is worth the equivalent of Kshs 2.3 Trillion. Compare that with Kenya’s 2022 Kshs 3.3 Trillion budget.
According to a report by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (FAS USDA), Brazil’s food processing sector is worth at least Shs21 Trillion. The sector supports about 36,100 companies, mostly SMEs. In the US itself, the food sector is responsible for 22.2 million full and part-time jobs.
I hereby end with two questions. Are we not part of this global space where we can strategically replicate these food production strategies as the global population inevitably increases?
As we match into the August National elections, can’t we elect hands-on leaders and political parties who understand the effect of Climate Change and can captain an agricultural revolution for common good? Think green, act green.