Despite contributing over 75% of Kenya’s total agricultural output, smallholder farmers in the country have nothing to smile about; often living in poverty and consumed by the farm manual drudgery. Widespread reliance on outdated and rudimentary farming methods have led to low productivity; giving little headroom for socio-economic advancement in a sector that employs up to 75% of the working population.
Experts opine that to turnaround the situation, there is need to inject new technologies and innovations especially those touching on mechanization; while equipping farmers with modern farming skills. Also key in the agricultural transformation agenda is increasing access to markets and finances, besides lowering existing market barriers.
As part of galvanizing international consensus to assist smallholder farmers access existing technologies, a workshop dubbed IDEA 2019 was staged at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology on Thursday March, 7, 2018.
The event that brought together scientists, farmers, government officials and agriculture-led non-state actors featured some cost effective innovations that have been deployed with relative success in Zambia, South Africa and Kenya.
In a keynote address, Chris Stimie from South Africa’s Rural Integrated Engineering noted that while large scale farmers had access to some of the best technologies, enabling them to practice precision agriculture; small scale farmers were much disadvantaged.
“An irrigation farmer may double her yield by reducing over-irrigation with the use of a soil moisture sensor. She thus saves water, time and fertilizer while her yield increases,” he averred.
Highlighting various mechanization options that Kenyan farmers could adopt, Eng. Daudi Njogu from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture said the use of motorized power in the country stands at 25%; hand-held hoes and animal drawn ploughs at is 20%. He further reported that Kenya has only 10,000 tractors serving over 3 million smallholder farmers.
“Activities such as crop spraying and harvesting are increasingly facing serious challenges in the face of climate change,” Daudi added.
IDEA 2019 lead organizer, Prof. Ifiok Otung from the University of South Wales, United Kingdom said the event was primed to explore a range of affordable technologies in poverty alleviation and wealth creation among small scale farmers in Africa.
While linking productivity to technology, Prof. Ifiok noted that, “those who use inferior technologies are themselves not inferior. They are just ill equipped.”
Prof. Mary Abukutsa who represented JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi at the event noted that digitization and large scale mechanization would also attract young people to the agricultural enterprise where the average age of the farmer is 60 years.
Abukutsa who is also in charge of research, production and extension at JKUAT nudged the participants to make concrete recommendations that stakeholders can leverage to create wealth through agriculture.
The workshop that was supported by University of South Wales and the Royal Academy of Engineering brought together over 50 participants.