By BRIAN OMOKE
No one deserves to go to bed hungry or worse, not have at least two square meals in a day. Sadly, chronic hunger is a reality for more than 10 million Kenyans.
The industrial agricultural model has for years been touted as the panacea for food insecurity but is it effective and sustainable? The answer is a resounding no. For instance, the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project launched by the Jubilee administration in 2013 was meant to pave the way for Kenya to be food secure. Five years and billions of tax money down the drain later, the project remains a mirage. While large farms are great for mass production of crops such as maize, food security should not be measured by the number of bags of maize in the strategic grain reserves.
Many small farms produce more varieties of food per hectare. Yet, the current food system, which is controlled by a few, sees these farmers dependent on middlemen for markets, credit, and farm inputs. From these middlemen comes subsidised synthetic fertilisers that reduce soil diversity and synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which, with frequent application, make pests and herbicides chemical-resistant.
It is time the government came out strongly to support and draft policies on sustainable agro-ecological organic farming. A system that would replace unnatural chemical application with better, less expensive practices that nourish the soil, raise healthier animals and facilitate use of readily available compost and livestock manure.
Embracing organic farming is a step towards solving food insecurity. Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the soil’s health and fertility while maintaining ecosystems. It allows farmers to sustainably produce healthy food, for themselves and others, season after season.
In addition, farmers can use their knowledge of their geographical areas to produce maximum output rather than the copy-pasting model of conventional farming. Organic farming allows farmers to plant their seeds without the worry of being labelled criminals.
It also empowers farmers to use locally available resources to nourish their crops, such as compost manure, reducing over-reliance on subsidised fertilisers. In addition, organic farming promotes good agricultural practices, protects biodiversity which helps them control pests and diseases, rather than relying on expensive, poisonous, ineffective and carcinogenic synthetic pesticides and herbicides. This enables farmers to produce healthy and nutritious food that attracts premium income.
We need to empower small-scale farmers, who are the majority of our food producers, to feed themselves first and then sell their surplus. ‘Feed thyself first’ should be an everyday mantra. To learn how to do this, we only need to look at Uganda, which as of 2016 had the largest area under organic farming in Africa and only came second globally to India. The Ugandan government took steps to transform the country’s conventional production to an organic farming system.
It adopted the Kilimo Hai initiative in 2007. In 2009, the government drafted the Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy, which aimed to create an enabling environment for growing, processing and marketing of organic products. Ugandan farmers now enjoy improved incomes and food security, reduced agricultural chemical runoffs, while certified organic exports revenues have risen from $3.7 million (Sh369 million) in 2003-04 to $22.8 million (Sh2.2 billion) in 2007-08.
Instead of importing grains from them, Kenya should seek to emulate them. It is time we supported smallholder farmers with the right information about organic agriculture and encouraged them to continue producing safe and nutritious foods that meet our dietary needs and enhance food sustainability without jeopardising future generations’ own food production.
Adopting farming practices that build soil health is key to stable and resilient agriculture, which means people will be able to feed themselves and others in a healthier and sustainable way.
Founder and CEO of Think Organic