[Column] Bob Koigi: Tackling information gap in Sub Saharan Africa to spur farming renaissance
Sub Saharan Africa is home to dozens of internationally respected agricultural research institutions majority who have their head offices in the region.
Since their establishment they have come up with thousands of new innovations and superior, stress free crop varieties as they seek to position the region as an agricultural supply station for the world.
However even with the rich bank of such innovation, statistics paint a grim picture of a yawning difference between these world class innovations and their actual use by especially the smallholder farmers. Infact numerous statistics show that less than five percent of the region’s farmers actually have information or are actually using these new varieties.
This even as over 20 million Africans teeter at the brink of hunger and death. So where exactly is the disconnect?
While many factors and theories have been advanced, lack of the right channels to disseminate relevant and timely information to the farmers right into the grassroots stand as the chief culprit.
Governments have been totally drained in the number of extension services that were once the magic bullet in addressing crop production problems. Currently one extension officer serves approximately 1,000 farmers. Extension officers, seen as governments’ point of contact with the farmers, have traditionally been hailed for playing the all crucial role of giving farmers personalized advice on the best farming methods, the best crop for a particular climate, soil and market information. Now knowing how crucial this role is in addressing the perennial food shortage, interventions to farmers cannot is a matter of when and not if.
Land is dwindling as real estate and other natural resources compete, population is growing at unprecedented level and taking the toil on the limited land. Farmers are still using the same old farming techniques to feed a burgeoning population. It is not rocket science why we are not producing enough. That is why change starting with land optimization and growing crops that occupy little space but yield more is our top priority.
Timely delivery of information to farmers matter now more than ever. A single piece of information is enough to trigger a whole set of mind shift in our farmers’ daily farming operations.
The government on its own cannot bridge the yawning information gap as numerous activities compete for its attention. The onus is now on the private sector to stand up and be counted especially in moving the tonnes of research from labs to farms if the region is to remain hunger free and spur a renaissance.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities