[Column] Rajan Shah: Let’s make Kenya a sustainable agriculture powerhouse
COP27, currently taking place in Egypt, is significant for many reasons, one being that this is the first time the conference has been held in Africa. Secondly, it calls for a collaborative effort to combat the adverse effects of climate change, with a clarion call for all to move from negotiations and planning to implementation.
Climate change has led to rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and extreme weather events, which have impacted food production and distribution systems globally.
According to the World Bank, Climate Change has reduced global agricultural productivity by about 21% since 1961. Furthermore, the State of the Climate in Africa 2021 report indicates that Africa’s agricultural productivity has reduced by 34% since 1961 due to increased temperatures. This is more than in any other region, and the trend is expected to continue, increasing the risk of acute food insecurity and malnutrition.
Kenya is currently facing one of the worst droughts, attributed to five successive failed rain seasons. Over 4.35 million Kenyans across 23 counties are affected, with 942,000 children and 134,000 pregnant and lactating mothers requiring urgent nutritional support (National Drought Early Warning Bulletin, October 2022).
Speaking during a Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Humanitarian Initiative event held to raise funds to support Kenyans affected by the drought, H.E Rigathi Gachagua, the Deputy President of Kenya, rightfully noted that, “Close to 60 years after independence, we should not be where we are as a nation”.
The Deputy President highlighted three critical areas that will provide robust, sustainable and long-lasting solutions to drive Kenya into an agricultural powerhouse, subsequently, support our economy beyond the current contribution to the GDP. First is bringing more cultivatable land under irrigation, second is embracing smart agriculture to increase farm productivity, and third is enhancing value addition in agriculture.
KAM and its Members recognize that we cannot have a thriving economy if one section of the community is left out. In the short term, this calls on us all to support those affected by the drought, including assistance with food and livestock feeds. As a long-term measure, the local industry has singled out industrialized agriculture as a critical pillar to enhance Kenya’s food security through a linkage between the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
The government has identified agriculture as a critical sector to transform the economy as it contributes nearly 25% to the GDP, injecting 22.4 per cent into the country’s GDP in 2021. Hence, it remains the backbone of Kenya’s economy.
According to the government’s plan to grow the economy, two-thirds of Kenyans derive all or part of their income from agriculture. Furthermore, food accounts for 54 per cent of household expenditures, but the less privileged spend 60 per cent or more. Despite this, agricultural productivity has not kept up with population growth, resulting in higher dependence on food imports.
Through the industrialized agriculture pillar, the manufacturing sector aims to increase the productivity of crops that impact our food security to bring down the cost of finished goods, subsequently, lower the cost of living. On the other hand, we seek to identify crops with the potential for higher value addition to minimize waste and diversify our export portfolio. For example, processing avocadoes to make avocado oil and other extracts, pyrethrum to make ingredients for insecticides, and cotton to make fabric.
One of the main issues that have contributed to the food scarcity in the country is massive post-harvest losses that occur due to low-value addition and poor cold chain facilities. According to a Food Agriculture Organization report on food loss and waste, approximately 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvest, up to, but not including the retail stage of the supply chain. On the other hand, 17% is wasted in retail and consumption levels. Through value addition, we can minimize waste as shelf-life increases.
The failed rain seasons have demonstrated that Climate Change is not just an emerging threat but a growing and undeniable reality that we are currently facing. Therefore, we must all act now to mitigate it. Kenya also has a golden opportunity to develop and implement long-term solutions to ensure that we are an agriculture powerhouse whilst investing in sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate the effects of climate change.
H.E. the President of Kenya, Dr William Ruto, whilst speaking at COP27 said, “In the face of impending catastrophe, whose warning signs are already unbearably disastrous, weak action is unwise; no action is dangerous.” Now is our time!