Kenya and the Horn of Africa are capable of producing enough food for the people who live there, says Professor Ratemo Waya Michieka an expert agronomist and weed scientist.
Prof Michieka, who is the former Vice Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, said that there is indeed a problem of water in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) albeit they have got excellent, fertile soils for agricultural production and livestock rearing.
“What is needed is a concerted effort and change of mindset by the government towards ASALs,” he said. “Funding is needed for even small scale farmers, working alongside dedicated experts, to see to it that any applicable technology is put into use.”
Prof Michieka, who is the chairman of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), said excellent livestock and plant breeders should also be introduced in these ASALs through continuous evaluation and monitoring of successful ventures.
“Micro and macro technologies adaptable to the local inhabitants, for example seed technology that is applicable to those areas, should be introduced,” said the chairman of KARI. The institute is charged with bringing together research programmes in food crops, horticultural and industrial crops, livestock and range management, land and water management as well as socio-economics in Kenya.
The professor who is currently researching and supervising postgraduate students at the University of Nairobi pointed out that there is an urgent need to supply and conserve any available water resources. Underground water banks should be built to prevent evapotranspiration during long dry spells in areas affected by high temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degree Celsius.
The Government has a very important role to play towards the realization of food security, he said: “It needs to change its mentality towards ASALs because they are always ignored and looked down upon.”
“There is need for extension officers’ services in the region to transfer even the smallest technologies available; however, the same extension services need to be spread throughout the country.”
According to Prof Michieka, the government needs to change its policies on food transportation, preservation, conservation and processing towards value added process. “Thus perishable foods do not rot during bumper harvest – this, in turn, will become a commercial venture for the farmers.”
“It is regrettable that 40 to 50 percent of food gets spoiled due to crop protection problems, by weed diseases and pathogens which affect even the harvested crops.”
He further notes that roads are impassable in these regions. “This complicates food transportation from one place to another. This is why we have witnessed during this food crisis period – food rotting in some parts of the country while 12 million people starve to death.”
However, he told The Global Herald that the current Kenyan government is doing improving its work in road building, “this was supposed to be done in the ‘70s.”
On the role of institutions of higher learning in curbing food insecurity, he said that knowledge is available in such places but it is not fully utilized.”
“There is need to make reference to the past successful work that has been documented through research and is gathering dust in these institutions.”
Prof Micheka said personnel in institutions of higher learning are not as involved in agricultural production as they should be. “They are ignored and their services not appreciated.”
He proposes that there should be a think-tank to involve ASALs communities in collaboration with responsible ministries.
To him, one of the greatest hindrances to the adaptation of best practice is that ministries are headed by non –technocrats – people whose academic qualifications are questionable in relevancy.
“This is true of many developing nations in Africa,” he said, adding “to complicate the matter funding is wanting and at times misused in unnecessary travels and meetings, talks that don’t bear fruits at the expense of development.”
On the role of individual small scale farmers, he said that they should be trained on basic food conservation, preservation, growing and livestock rearing for future seasons.
“Water conservation should be an inbuilt desire among the farmers as it is in other countries, like Arabia, Israel and Egypt among others.”
He challenges the farmers to remember that there are some indigenous crops which are currently being dubbed as orphaned crops or the lost crops of Africa which should be promoted in areas where they can grow. “People should be encouraged to change their eating habits,” he said. “These crops should be encouraged in ASALs areas where they might succeed.”
The Professor argued that the international community needs to go the extra mile – beyond funding towards promoting exchange programmes that directly involve farmers, as well as the promotion of extension services modelled on successful countries.