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What farmers need to move beyond subsistence farming

By Consolata Muhundi

Despite Kenya’s impressive advances across the economy in innovation, entrepreneurship and infrastructure, agriculture continues to be the bedrock of our country’s development. It is also the key to creating equitable and sustainable growth.

Agriculture is one of the major source of Kenya’s income, employment, food security, supports most of the population and is also a significant source of foreign exchange through exports. Vision 2030’s Economic pillar identified agriculture as a critical sector to achieve the 10 per cent annual growth rate that Kenya seeks in generating more resources.

No country, such as Israel where more than half of it is a desert, ever achieved significant growth without modernising agriculture. We have made progress in modernising agriculture, but have not yet reached our full potential.

To achieve this potential, we must do agriculture in a different way from how we create policy at the national level, to how we allocate resources in our farming households. Not only shall we adopt new ideas under the mandate we have been given but also shall we be bold in achieving them. Agricultural transformation is critical to growing the economy, reducing food prices, alleviating poverty and delivering 100 per cent food and nutrition security.

Productivity trend

According to the 2019 Kenya Economic Update released by the World Bank, agricultural sector in Kenya has improved greatly over the years but agricultural productivity has either remained stagnant or declined. This is partly attributed to continued reliance on rain-fed agriculture adversely affected by global warming. Among other reasons are prevalence of pests, diseases and dwindling knowledge delivery systems.

A major challenge facing farming has been need to raise farm incomes through increased agricultural productivity, which is the ratio of the total output of crop and livestock products to the total inputs of land, labour, capital, and materials used to produce that output. Agricultural productivity is dependent on the quality of the inputs and how well those inputs are integrated in the production process.

It can be increased through investment in intensive use of already existing technologies that include mobile phone applications, modern irrigation projects, pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and improved crop varieties developed through the conventional and science-based methods available. These technologies have great potential to increase on-farm productivity and enhance food security. Producing more food from fewer resources, has been humankind’s primary defense against the threat of a Malthusian crisis - too many people and not enough food.

Economic growth

Increase in agricultural productivity contributes to national economic development and income growth in three major ways. One, it supplies an economic surplus that can be consumed or used for further production in agriculture or transferred out of agriculture to provide capital for economic growth and meet expanding consumption needs in the non-agricultural sectors.

Two, it makes possible the release of labour and other resources in the non-agricultural sectors. Three, it increases purchasing power for rural people, expand markets for industrial products and brings out the structural changes needed for national economic growth.

Way Forward

With limited land resources, many farmers must find ways to double crop yields in the near future if they are to develop rapidly.

Abundant labour must be used to improve natural resources. Scarce supplies of capital inputs need to be used sparingly and where marginal returns are largest so as to increase crop yields and the overall productivity ratio in agriculture. 

Agriculture must gradually shift from subsistence to market production. Perhaps most important, investments must be made to improve technical and managerial talents of rural people.  

(Consolata is a researcher - PHD in Finance Candidate, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, CEO of Splendid Mushroom Enterprise)  

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