Kenya and the Horn of Africa are struggling to emerge from the grip of food insecurity and drought. According to the Kenya Redcross, 12.4 million people have been exposed to starvation.
An ambitious plan is being is being put in place by the Government of Kenya to alleviate the perennial hunger problem. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya is pumping Sh 200 billion into irrigation programmes over the next three years.
The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Romano Kiome, says the plan seeks to put at least one million acres of land under irrigation to curb the cycle of drought and famine. The Ministry of Agriculture will work with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and other line ministries to implement the project.
Like Egypt, a desert country that produces sufficient food to feed its people through irrigation-fed agriculture, Kiome is proposing that Kenya should invest heavily in such a programme to break away from over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture.
“It is possible for the country to produce sufficient food for the entire nation,” Dr Kiome says. “ We only need to put our priorities right.”
He pointed out that only 15,000 acres of land is under irrigation in Kenya. Thus, he reasoned if an additional 850,000 acres of land is put under irrigation, the country will be on its way to attaining food security.
The country has so far spent Sh 11 billion on irrigating 15,000 acres of land, but Dr Kiome says the Government needs to invest more in the programme. He says that each acre will require about Sh 200,000, bringing the total amount needed for the project to Sh 200,000 billion.
Dr Kiome did his PhD research on modelling crop production under various soil and water management systems. He says that irrigation is not a simple technology and farmers, especially in rural areas, need to be educated about it.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has the capacity to train farmers on irrigation because the project could fail if those who implementing it do not have the basic skills to operate it,” he says.
The agricultural expert who did various postdoctoral research works with the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich in the UK, believes that the country needs a paradigm shift to change the way Kenyans view agriculture.
“We need to change our strategies and transform our mentality so that we can start viewing agriculture as a business investment,” he says.
To meet the immediate need of the country, he says that the ministry has put in place various strategic measures to ensure that food production is accelerated. To enhance production in areas not prone to drought, the ministry has put in place a programme to provide farmers with subsidised seeds and fertilizers.
Under the National Accelerated Agricultural Input Access Programme (NAAIP) a total of 555,000 resource-poor farmers have been given free seeds to cultivate at least one acre of land. Another programme that has been initiated is the provision of traditional seeds to over 100,000 farmers to encourage them to embark on the production of traditional foods, which are resistant to drought.
To produce quality seeds for farmers, the Kenya Seed Company began an irrigated seed project and is expected that by October 2011, there would be enough quality seeds for farmers.
“Last season, the Kenya Seed Company had a very old stock of seeds and were caught up in the drought cycle,” Dr Kiome says.
In the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme (NALEP), which started in July 2000, the Government and donor agencies, including the World Bank, European Union and USAID, has enabled 2 million farmers to boost their livestock production.
Fertilizers production is very important in boosting food production and the Government is planning to set up a fertilizer firm to resolve the problem.
“We wanted to involve other members of the East African Community in the process of setting up the fertilizer company, but things were moving too slowly,” says the Permanent Secretary, adding that they contacted a firm to carry out a feasibility study and it should be through by October 2011. “We hope that before the end of this year, we will identify an investor who will be interested in setting up the company.”
In the mean time the ministry is exploring options of mixing the fertilizers locally and providing them to farmers at a subsidized price.