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November 07, 2007

Food security depends on use of modern farming methods

by Eddie Owedhi

Kenya, like many developing countries, has witnessed famine, causing a lot of suffering and death.

Food security is crucial as it determines the stability of a nation. A malnourished, food-deficient society cannot engage in any meaningful development. Governments should, therefore, strive to ensure that food is available for all through increased agricultural production.

However, the methods championed by the government and NGOs cannot match the times. They have been calling for use of low input techniques, which are traditional, rudimentary and cannot produce enough food for the rapidly growing population.

Today, Kenya cannot afford to rely on small-scale agriculture. Human labour, hoes and rain-fed agriculture are inconsequential in the struggle to provide sufficient food today. This calls for the adoption of modern agricultural practices, as has happened elsewhere in the developed countries.

The government and stakeholders should champion “agrarian revolution” in Kenya, just as occurred in Britain in the 18th century. This revolution entailed use of machines and high yielding crop varieties that propelled Britain and most of Europe to their current industrialised status. Large-scale agricultural production led to flourishing of manufacturing and service industries that created jobs as urban centres developed.

In as much as the climate may not favour us, scientific discoveries have proved that harnessing scientific principles and technology could be of great significance. Israel, a desert country, exports fruits and vegetables to countries with more favourable tropical climates.

The government and stakeholders, including NGOs, should back full-scale adoption of modern agricultural techniques. These should include intensifying agricultural production by managing land and water. Here, modern irrigation infrastructure is needed. Farmers ought to embrace irrigation instead of relying on rain-fed agriculture. Besides enhancing mechanisation, marginal lands should be improved by adding fertilisers.

The other practice, though controversial, is the use of high-yielding and genetically modified varieties. Genes are available that could help in food production if transferred into poor people’s crops. This practice is not restricted to the US and Canada, but has been practised in developing countries such as Argentina.

Pest control is of great concern. Despite the debate on the effects of pesticides on the environment, many industrialised countries continue to use these chemicals to increase food quantity. However, farmers should know how to purchase, transport, store, apply and dispose of these chemicals to avoid environmental damage. This calls for integrated pest management, which involves cultural, biological and mechanical practices that reduce the pest population.

To achieve food security, farmers should be encouraged to diversify agriculture. Current opportunities include rearing fish and growing water vegetables and forage production to supply livestock farmers. Urban agriculture could assist populations in towns which can’t afford to buy food. Horticulture, poultry-keeping and agro-forestry are apt opportunities for urban dwellers.

The government should revamp extension services and credit to farmers to expand their enterprises. There is need for viable credit schemes to guarantee economic stability of farmers in their effort to provide surplus food.

With the rapidly increasing population, unpredictable climatic patterns and continued land degradation, it is only through the application of modern agricultural practices, and science and technology principles, that food security can be sustained.

Daily Nation-Kenya

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