Monday, 25 June 2012

Shamba Shape-Up -- Great Innovation in TV Programming for Agriculture

In a time when media houses have been focussed on politics and socio-dramas to enhance their viewership, some of the leading media outfits have been able to air an agricultural and farming production. The programme which goes by the name of  "Shamba Shape-up" has been airing for quite sometime now...lucky to have caught it in the last couple of early Sunday afternoons.
Shamba Shape-up Presenters  - Naomi Kamau & Tonny Njuguna
Image courtesy of 

 "Shamba Shape-up" - focuses on a practical, hands-on production which features one or more farmers who gets a visit from the 2 presenters. These presenters are able to come with experts in various agricultural fields including veterinarian, crop production experts, soil scientists, carpenter( for animal structures) among others.
The presenters and experts use local Swahili language to explain the various challenges that the farmers and farming profession faces and how best to overcome them using local methods and solutions. They have also partnered with various local agricultural supplies firms such as Kenchic, Unga Group, Coopers(K), Syngenta, KARI along with agro-financing institutions such as FSD Kenya , AECF (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund) and AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa).

This is a great idea especially to us young farmers who are busy trying to make it in a field which has been shunned by many. It also helps to provide alternative solutions for us farmers with less of the textbook solutions that many others offer. Most of the ideas explored are usually very practical and one can always compare notes with what you are doing on your own farm.

Kudos to the producers, partners and all those who have made this innovative programme. We just hope it will continue coming on our screens and get more support. We would also love for other national and regional media houses to carry it to engage farmers from across the region in various ways of improving both crop production and animal husbandry.

Let's 'shape-up our Shambas'

For more info, you can check their link here, and also view some of the past episodes. Hope they can also work on improving the social and online media interaction to reach a wider audience of their targetted audience, in this our era! 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Kenyan Budget 2012/13 Estimates - What does it mean for Kenya's Agriculture?

Last week on Thursday, the Kenyan Finance Minister gave his ritualistic Budget estimates to the August House and the country as a whole, for the year 2012/13. With an election year beckoning and also the new structures of governance as recommended in the new Constitution, Mr. Njeru Githae had a tough task of balancing his figures
Finance Minister holds up Budget suitcase - Image courtesy of Business Daily

Of importance to us though is what these estimates bode for the agricultural sector. Here are some of the recommendations that directly affected agriculture;

  • An additional amount of KSh. 1. billion was added to the Agribusiness Fund to help promote credit access to Kenyan farmers. This is together with the agreement for banks to invest 10 Shilling. for every 1 shilling of Government invested bringing the total allocated to Agribusiness Fund to KSh. 10 billion.
  • KSh. 1.5 billion was recommended to write off farmers debts in the sugar, rice and coffee sectors. 
  • KSh. 1.6 billion was set for Strategic Grain Reserves and another KSh. 2 billion for famine relief.
  • Contigency Fund was allocated KSh. 6 billion to help mitigate against unforeseen conditions and market forces. 
  • KSh. 8 billion was allocated to the National Irrigation Board - which manages various irrigation schemes in the country - this is to help bring agriculturally potential areas to optimal production levels.
  • KSh. 53.3 billion will be spent by the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries and others relating to the agricultural sector. This represents approximately 5% of the total budget ( remember agriculture remains one of leading sectors bringing in about 25% of total revenues especially in foreign exchange terms...)

Other recommendations include;

  • Tax issues - Exemption of duty for importers of inputs in bee-keeping ( apiculture)
  • Trade promotion strategy for expanding and diversifying exports, main focus being on nuts ( macadamia and cashew-nuts) 
Overall, in my opinion, not much effort was made to enhance Kenya's food production. This is because, more efforts would have been put in enhancing value addition in export-oriented products. A case in hand is the coffee industry which should borrow a leaf from the Ethiopians who were able to get Starbucks to recognise their brands of coffee.

More items and food production inputs should have been zero-rated to enable Kenyan farmers produce more and a cheaper cost. Items such as fertilisers, machinery parts and also fuel which plays a major role in almost all sectors could have been on a lowered tax regime or staggered over the next 12 months.

But as financial analysts will tell you, the figures are the easy part, implementing and balancing them is the tougher battle. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Maize Imports in Kenya, Not Again!

Press reports and information coming from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that the country may not be able to fully cater for local maize supplies thus the need to import more maize grain. Well, this must be one of those Ministry directives that hurts many Kenyan farmers and millers alike ( OK depending on which side you're rooting for anyway...)
Healthy Maize crop

In the last 2-3 years, the country's grains production has come under severe threats thanks to factors both within our reach and others not entirely our fault. From
- environmental concerns - drought and poor rains;
- reduced yields in traditional bread baskets of Western and Rift Valley;
- poor storage methods which lead to bad grain - remember aflatoxin in Eastern parts of Kenya?
- poor farming practices - this is especially so with the small-scale farmers who use archaic methods of planting and tending to their shambas
- poor marketing practices which have led to grain farmers losing their grain to middlemen who are out to make a killing by hoarding this for speculative purposes. Read this article about rice and the EAC.
- invasion by disease and pests - this is the case with the weaver birds invading parts of Narok and also the current mosaic disease affecting some areas in the country

This has seen our strategic grain reserve under threat in the same number of years ( we can't forget the rumoured sale of grain reserves by some Ministry operatives in 2008-09 in the guise of seeking cheaper imports only to re-route the local grain back to the market at a higher price...).

Its begs the questions;

  • Why can't the Ministry of Agriculture and other related Ministries such as Environment and Forestry come up with a master plan to improve farming practices both for large-scale and small-scale holders to ensure improved yields?
  • Can the Ministries also improve our storage capacities across bread basket regions by building bigger and more silos to store these grains as and when they are harvested?
  • In terms of irrigation, Kenya is still operating below the required minimum while the rate of population growth has been shooting up, what plans are there to ensure the Irrigation Schemes operate at above average and the harvest combined to ensure good yield across the country?
  • Instead of always looking out for 'cheaper' imports, why can't the Ministry of Agriculture subsidise the farm inputs for the local farmers to ensure improved yields and thus better supply to the local market? The excess grain can either be exported or also used as animal feed where possible. The animal husbandry in the country has been growing and the processed feeds prices rising by the day...
  • Remember the Bible story of Joseph dreams in Egypt of 7 prosperous years and 7 hard years? These good and bad cycles with regards to weather, climatic conditions have become shorter and every 2-3 years Kenya is bound to have drought and related conditions. Learn from them!
  • A Commodities Exchange being set up? This has worked in other African countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa. Kenya can learn from the same.
  • Initiatives such as those done by East Africa Breweries with regards to barley and sorghum farming should be encouraged. (Read more on what EABL is doing with sorghum here in beer production) You wonder if major millers in Kenya engage farmers and their co-operatives anymore or do they always want to hide under the guise of cheap imports to lower production costs? 
  • Can the efficiency of such bodies as National Cereals and Produce Board, Kenya Seed Company and related bodies be enhanced? Instead of appointing political rejects and rewarding your bosom buddies, Ms Waziri you can do the country a favour by standing up to competency and ensuring the security of our country's food reserves.
  • Kenya lies right at the heart of the tropics. The said issue of reafforestation has NEVER BEEN taken SERIOUSLY and our forest cover percentage against recommended global benchmarks is really ALARMING! The handling of the Mau and other forest areas evictions have been badly handled yet we've all seen the effects it has on the environment. Can't we ensure that there is minimum forest cover in every county to ensure mitigating against environmental concerns? 
  • Over-emphasis on cash crops at the expense of food crops - though many may not agree with my opinion, we have been laying emphasis on cash crops such as tea and coffee for too long yet we're not sufficient in supplying food to our local populace. Can the Ministries rethink these models?
  • What quotas are given to millers who get the right to import the grains? 

Wheat harvesting 

Answers to these questions will ensure Kenya becomes self-sufficient in grains to feed not just her own population but also feed neighbouring countries. This will ensure enhanced food security and grain reserves not just for the country but for the region too. In a continent that is growing in leaps and bounds, food security is imperative if Kenya is to achieve its ambitious economic goals.