Innovation, research and technology key to achieving food security

Once more, the drought and related famine that are ravaging parts of the country have put to test a key deliverable under the Big Four Agenda; is the target on food security achievable, and what are the challenges that frustrate our productivity in the agricultural sector?

That drought and famine are still ravaging nearly 19 counties in Kenya, and the challenges facing maize farmers in Rift Valley and sugar cane farmers in Western, is an indication that our agriculture is yet to transform much as expected, and able to help realize the food security requirement under the Big Four Agenda.

Challenges facing the sector currently include access to extension and other services; access to financial services; access to markets; access to alternative energy sources for agriculture; access to climate smart agriculture advisory services and data driven applications.

How much innovations and interventions, startups and financial services have we invested in as a country to deal with these challenges? What are our emergency plans and how are the National and County Governments collaborating on dealing with the issue of food security, especially through investing in innovations, research and technology?

According to the World Bank, Kenya accounts for 23 per cent of all African agri-tech start-ups in Africa. Some key promising approaches include service delivery for small holders, financial services, enterprise development, market access, data analytics and climate smart agriculture.

Despite being the digital innovation hub of Africa and home to many innovative start-ups on digital agriculture in the African continent, Kenya’s agricultural sector has not been able to achieve significant agricultural transformation.

It will be interesting to know interventions especially around the use of technology to solve the many challenges that face famers in Kenya, given that climate change has drastically altered the weather seasons in the country, and seemingly drought is now affecting the whole country, not just the semi-arid and arid areas as was previously the case.

The government will be hard pressed to show the interventions it has put in place and other partners in scale up investments in research, knowledge creation and financial support to the sector during the upcoming World Bank Group and the Korea-World Bank Partnership Facility sponsored knowledge and innovation challenge conference on scaling up disruptive digital technologies in the agricultural sector in Kenya in Nairobi this week.

The Cabinet Secretaries for Agriculture and ICT will present the government plans on the same during the conference on Disruptive Agricultural Technology (DAT).

Scaling up impact of digital and disruptive technologies on Kenyan agriculture requires systematic investment in knowledge, innovation and incubation ecosystem.

It is expected that the conference will lead to development of a multi-stakeholder knowledge and innovation platform for DT in Kenya to continue the knowledge development and dissemination activities.

Issues to be discussed will include market linkages, farmer financial inclusion, data analytics and agricultural intelligence.

The World Bank in its various studies has made a raft of suggestions on how to deal with challenges in the agricultural sector. First, it’s important to create a digital ecosystem for extension, to give more farmers greater access to learning that can improve their farming.

Secondly, it is vital to support more transparency in market prices. Advisories and apps that provide access to price information will allow farmers to get prices on their own without a middleman, foster more competition, and put more revenues in farmers’ pockets.

Third, precision agriculture is a game changer and more effort should be put into making these technologies more accessible and affordable.

Drones, sensors and other tools can make a difference in farmer productivity and should be in the hands of more farmers. Finally, there should be a greater focus on introducing entrepreneurial approaches into Africa’s agriculture higher education system.

(The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya and is a media trainer on Climate Change and Environment reporting)

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