Africa Business Communities

[Column] Bob Koigi: Why we need change of tact in feeding a burgeoning population

An array of population explosion, demand for food, and changes in weather are conspiring to defeat the food security resolve in the country.

Kenya is one of Africa’s fastest growing countries in terms of population with the current population estimated to be 44 million making it the 30th largest country in the world in terms of population numbers alone.  This is expected to jump to 97 million by 2050 according to World Population Review.

 Climate change and the vagaries of weather are poised to have their toll on crop yields. Already farmers are reporting a loss of up to 60 percent of their yield to climate related happenings.

This is expected to worsen in 2050 with numerous studies intimating that a yield drop of upto 30 percent will be felt. And therein lies the danger. The population explosion will create unprecedented food demand which going by researchers may not be realized if current situation is anything to go by.

At the moment over 80 percent of Kenyan farmers rely on rain fed agriculture for crop production.  With potentially devastating effects on food production capacity, agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Higher temperatures and more erratic rainfall patterns have reduced yields, encouraged weed and pest proliferation and increased the likelihood of short run crop failures and long run production declines.

But the bigger problem rests in composition of agriculture drivers in the country. Agriculture in Kenya contributes about a quarter to the national economy and about 70 percent of export earnings.

Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of farmers in Kenya are smallholders with less than 1 hectare of land, and production by smallholder farmers accounts for more than 60 percent of the horticulture subsector. This is the constituency that is bearing the brunt of changes in weather. Over reliance on rain fed agriculture is only serving to exacerbate the situation.

Government’s resolve to embrace irrigation through the 1million acre project couldn’t have come at a better time if we are to save ourselves from the perennial hunger cycle. But we need to take a leap of faith and understand how transformatory irrigation can be if we not only go large scale with it but target those affected by vagaries of weather; our small scale farmers.

The shift is now needed to help smallholder farmers access technologies that will enable them increase farm yields, achieve resilience and better nutrition to address poverty, food security as well as economic growth,

As 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug stated, ‘Humankind in the 21st century will need to bring about a Blue Revolution to complement the Asian Green Revolution of the 20th century… New science and technology must lead the way.’

A key challenge for decision makers, policy makers, and development partners is to understand the strategies adopted by farmers and other stakeholders in their efforts to address climate change-induced water stress. Smallholder farmers are the most vulnerable to climate change, and they have no alternative but to adapt their livelihood systems to changing climatic conditions. Fortunately, several practical options for adaptation exist. All efforts should therefore be made to refine, augment and deploy them appropriately and urgently.

In Kenya for example there are only 54,000 acres of land under irrigation out of a possible 22 million acres.  Out of these only a paltry 10 percent of smallholder farmers practice consistent irrigation.

This. despite studies indicating that expanding the use of smallholder water management techniques could increase yields by up to 300 percent, increase household income by upto Sh5000 a month for single-crop enterprises and could add tens of billions of dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa.

Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor East Africa at Africa Business Communities


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