A few years back, I happened to visit Israel and was stunned at how the desolate tract of a country was not only able to feed itself but also export food to other countries.
Despite more than half of her land being a desert, agriculture in Israel represents 2.5 percent of total GDP and 3.6 percent of exports.
Israel’s land doesn’t scream ‘fertile’ and her climate and terrain aren’t exactly conducive to the elements most of us would consider key for farming and the growing of crops.
Israel has however overcome the challenges through elaborate planning to tame the harsh desert. Kibbutz farming, a collective community in which the means of production are communally owned and each member’s work benefits all, is mainly supported by irrigation.
As Kenya goes through a food crisis with more than ten million people in need of food aid because of the severe drought which has caused total crop failure, lessons from the Israeli experience could well be translated to ensure food sufficiency here.
With a very limited amount of water, Israel has fused irrigation systems with technology to ensure optimal use of the scarce resources. One type of irrigation utilised here is Drip Irrigation. The unique feature of this system is the uniform spread of moisture throughout the soil, which also reduces the amount of drain-off water.
All types of irrigation employed by Israel can be computer operated. This allows for real-time operations, the performance of a series of operations, monitoring continued operation for many hours a day, precision, reliability, and savings in manpower.
When the system registers a deviation in the regular quantities of water or fertilizer, it shuts down automatically. These systems also assist in determining the desired irrigation intervals and allow the user to pre-program said intervals. In addition, moisture sensors are buried in the soil and provide information regarding moisture levels in the soil.
The country has also ensured a progressive relationship between researchers, extension officers, farmers, and other agriculture-related experts over the past centuries to emerge as a leader of modern agriculture.
A gradual conversion to an organic agricultural philosophy and practices as applied in Israel may be part of the way forward for Kenyan agriculture.
Kenya can easily tap into this knowledge by strengthening its relationship with MASHAV, Israel’s international development cooperation program that has been assisting in the development of agriculture in Africa since the late 1950s.
Kenya must also borrow from Sri Lanka’s Food Security Policies which has seen the country become a major exporter of food after years of relying on imports.
The Asian country is self-sufficient with food due to incentives such as supply of irrigation water, free fertilizer and guaranteed prices to the farmers.
Here in Africa, The Zambian government’s move to attract new investment in farming in order to raise food production is also bearing fruit.
The country has registered bumper crop harvests after allocating 90,000 hectares of land to commercial farmers in 2003.
These success stories may well be a glimpse into future Kenya where the present food and water crisis will be a thing of the past.