Prof. Tani calls for field research to ensure food security

Prof. Tani delivers his  presentation

Masayuki Tani, a Professor of Agro-environmental sciences at the Japan-based Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, contends that “It is possible to introduce new technologies and innovations…but first, it must be important to find local and realistic issues from the field research.”

Recognizing the significance of food security and the collective efforts being made globally to prioritize food availability, Professor Tani emphasizes that the concept of “food availability” refers to the presence of adequate quantities of high-quality food, sourced either domestically or through imports.

Drawing from field research conducted in Japan, Kenya and Malawi, Prof. Tani shared the success story of potato farming in Japan, especially in Hokkaido, which “produces about 30 tons per hectare, translating to 77 per cent of the total potato production in Japan.”

Prof. Tani revealed this as a keynote speaker at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Wednesday, March 8, during a seminar organized by AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project as part of the 60th-anniversary commemoration of the Kenya – Japan partnership.

The Japanese scholar highlighted soil fertility improvement in Japan, and its accompanying developments in the potato value chain that has led to the establishment of one of the leading potato based-snacks processing industries, known as Calbee.

“Since 1960s, the production of potato has improved dramatically through continuous phosphate fertilization and soil improvement,” he said, further stating, the potato chips processing company is collaborating with the researchers at Obihiro University to improve potato crop production by improving the soils.

Based on case studies of field researchers that focused on improving soil fertility and potato productivity, the researcher shed light on what should be done to ensure food availability in the region.

In his presentation titled: Importance of field research towards food availability, Prof. Tani, a specialist in soil chemistry and fertility, also shared insights on evaluation of soil fertility in Limuru potato fields, including Tigoni, Kabuku and Kabete.

The results indicated yield potential was about 40-60 tons per hectare, while actual yield in research field was 25 -35 tons per hectare, but in the neighbouring farmer fields, the yields were below 10 tons per hectare, laying bare the large yield gap between farmer yields and research or yield potential, a fact that begged the question, is it just potato seed quality?

To close the identified yield gap between farmer yield and research yield, the answer, according to the soil chemistry expert, lay in carrying out soil evaluation of potato growing region of Kenya.

He revealed that Kiambu has naturally very high potential for high potato productivity, but many farm fields have excessive phosphate around Tigoni. He further stated,  manure input could be the cause of excess phosphate and a field soil phosphate testing method to “red-flag” fields with high available phosphate, had been developed.

A section of seminar participants follow Prof. Tani’s the presentation 

Speaking at the seminar, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof. Robert Kinyua, said, Japan has made immense contributions to the country particularly to JKUAT through JICA.

He noted that the university management was delighted to host Prof. Masayuki Tani to share his research experiences during the 60th-anniversary celebrations, adding, Kenya is an agricultural country, and data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, indicate that 29% of the GDP comes from agriculture sector.

“We believe, a lot can come from the area of agriculture. The kind of agriculture we do, is still very traditional by small-scale farmers and when the rains fail, there is hunger all over the country,” he said.

Prof. Kinyua reiterated that poor agricultural practices, lead to environmental degradation, and called for sustainable agriculture in the country, by learning from good practices.

Underscoring the traction maize has gained amongst the population as a staple food crop in Kenya, Prof. Kinyua, however stated that “recently, there has been a deliberate drive towards other crops one of which is potato, which has become very important.”

Potato farming in Kenya, he observed, is done mainly by small-scale farmers, adding that as a country, we could benefit from how others are doing it.

The Chief Representative, JICA Kenya Office, Mr. Hajima Iwama, spoke about Japan–Kenya Bilateral relations, where he lauded the strong relationship and partnership between JKUAT and JICA.

“It is 60 years anniversary of the great relationship between Kenya and JICA. JICA started collaboration with Kenya the same year the country got independence.”

Mr. Iwama said, JICA has a number of collaborations in Kenya, singling out the partnership with JKUAT which started in 1978.

The official cited some activities in agriculture sector which underscore the bilateral cooperation, such as rice production and development in Mwea and Ahero, aimed at empowering small scale farmers.

In renewable energy sector, Mr. Iwama said, “JICA has been in the forefront in geothermal development through “capacity building with KenGen, and JKUAT is a member of research project on geothermal energy. I really appreciate JKUAT.”

The Principal, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Prof Daniel Sila, set the tempo noting, the seminar is part of activities lined up to commemorate 60th anniversary of the joint partnership between Kenya and Japan, which will be marked by a number of presentations to celebrate this special moment.

“We have not walked this journey alone.  We have walked this journey with our partners. One of the strongest partners especially at JKUAT is Japan through JICA. To celebrate this meaningfully and make sense out of this, we have organized a number of seminar presentations to commemorate including seminar series commencing, March 8 – 29.

The second seminar by Prof. Hagiwara, is slated for March 15, titled: “A case study of fisheries and aquaculture for Kenya Blue Economy.”

A commemorative group photo after the first seminar presentation.

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