Organic agriculture can feed Kenya well
No one deserves going to bed hungry or, worse, not have at least two square meals a day. Sadly, chronic hunger is a reality that more than 10 million Kenyans are all too familiar with.
To address this chronic problem, the industrial agricultural model has for years been touted as the panacea for food insecurity. But, is it effective and sustainable? No! For instance, the Galana Kulalu food security project launched in 2013 was hailed as the Canaan that would pave the way for the country to be food-secure.
Five years on and billions of tax money down the drain later, the project remains a mirage. While large farms are great for mass production of crops like maize, food security should not be measured by the number of bags of maize we have in our Strategic Grain Reserves.
The reality is many small diversified farms produce more food per hectare. Yet, the current food system controlled by a few puts the smallholder farmers at the mercy of middlemen to access market, credit, and farm inputs.
From these middlemen come subsidised synthetic fertilisers that reduce soil diversity and synthetic pesticides and herbicides that lead to resistance.
It is time the government supported sustainable organic farming. This system would replace the unnatural chemical application with better, less expensive practices that nourish the soil, raises healthier animals and facilitates the use of compost and livestock manure.
Embracing organic farming is a step towards solving the issues that have crippled food security. Organic agriculture sustains soil health and fertility while maintaining the ecosystems. This system will allow farmers to produce healthy food.
In addition, farmers can use their traditional and scientific knowledge to produce rather than copy-pasting.
Organic farming respects seed sovereignty by allowing farmers to repeatedly plant seeds without worrying of being labelled criminals.
It also empowers farmers to use local resources to nourish crops like compost manure, allowing them to cut ties and overreliance on the cartel-backed subsidised fertilizers.
In addition, organic farming protects biodiversity which helps them to control pests and diseases rather than relying on expensive, poisonous, ineffective and confirmed carcinogenic synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Indeed, healthy and nutritious food attracts premium income. We need to empower small-scale farmers to feed themselves first and then sell their surplus.
‘Feed thyself first’ should be the mantra. To learn how to do this, we only need to look at our neighbour Uganda that by 2016 had the largest area under organic farming in Africa and only came second, globally, to India.
This is as a result of the Ugandan government taking steps in transforming the country’s conventional production.
The country took radical steps when it adopted the Kilimo Hai initiative in 2007 and more importantly in 2009, the government drafted the Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy aiming to create an enabling environment for growing, processing and marketing of the products.
The outcomes of these efforts have not disappointed. Uganda’s farmers are now enjoying improved incomes and food security due to reduced agricultural chemical runoffs and certified organic exports revenues that had been rising from as low as $3.7 million in 2003/2004 to $22.8 million as of 2007/08.
Instead of importing grains from them, Kenya should seek to emulate them and put the organic farming lessons into practice.
Majority of our food comes from the smallholder farmers; it is time we supported them with the correct information about organic agriculture, encouraged them to continue producing safe and nutritious food that meets our dietary needs and enhance food sustainability without jeopardising the future generations.
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.
Brian Omoke, founder and CEO, Think Organic.