Reaping From Agriculture and Value Addition; The changing Landscape.
We must admit that the agricultural landscape in the country is changing rapidly. I was born in the age where the family, back in the village produced what it consumed. Agribusiness was not what it is today. It was an era where as a family we grew everything right from vegetables, cereals, poultry, cattle rearing and even fruits. One thing stood out though, we only planted what we consumed because our next neighbors had theirs too. What was the quality of the products back then? Low quality. We didn’t care since the yield was not an issue, as long as it was enough for us.
Today the landscape has changed rapidly. It is even going to change more with the infusion of smart agriculture and technology by modern age farmers. A few weeks ago, I travelled to Kisii and on my way, I happened to study the Maasai area from off the Mai Mahiu Naivasha road to the Bomet area. The concept of quality agriculture struck my mind. It is common to find the Maasai herdsmen with lots of herds of cattle whose quality is very low. They value quantity as opposed to quality which in the agribusiness world doesn’t translate to much gain for the farmer.
What if they decided to make a huge ranch on the vast tracts of land? Instead of losses incurred from lack of enough food in such dry times of the year as now, they could in a way do a few boreholes and make ranches for rearing quality beef animals. The math is simple, they will become the beef suppliers for the country and the region. Well, in modern and first world economies, specialization is becoming key issue in terms of economic planning. Israel for instance turned the Negev desert to be their bread basket while Telaviv became the technology hub. Jerusalem on the hand became a tourist and religious hub. In India, Bangalore has become the Silicon Valley whereas Bengaluru and Gujarat are some of the greatest food baskets for the country. New Delhi, Jaipur, Goa and Mumbai are the major destinations for tourists.
Narok and Turkana can invest in quality beef farming and become the beef hub in the region. Nandi hills and Tranz nzoia and greater parts of rift valley can specialize in cereal agriculture in massive numbers. Limuru and central Kenya can begin looking at serious dairy farming. Kisii highlands and Meru can on the other hand become a serious hub for vegetables and selected fruits producers such as bananas, avocadoes among other fruits that do well in those regions. Eastern Kenya can go into serious Mango farming together with arid Fish farming together with Mandera. Mombasa will retain their tourist hub status but will need to push it a notch higher. Finally Western and part of Nyanza will specialize in sugar farming and this can be sugar cane and research to be done on sugar beet farming and its viability within the region. Sugar should not be a contagious issue every now and again as is maize.
Value addition and the value chain.
A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with Jeremy Riro, a leading consultant in Kenya for mSMEs and large enterprises also. In the discussion, it was clear that if we change the model of our agriculture, we stand to reap big. In his idea, Jeremy gave a model of empowering for example a group of farmers in Kisii to do only quality vegetable farming. Then a vegetable processing facility be put up that provides a ready market for their products, with such a model it turns to be a powerful way of doing smart agriculture at the same time empowering the local farmers in terms of improved standards of living. Don’t forget on the impact in the economy. Technology will come in handy to develop mechanisms for monitoring quality and managing the farmers segmentation.
Prof. Bitange Ndemo also shares in a similar approach. In a discussion with the Ndemo who is a leading researcher on the use of technology by small and medium enterprises to leverage production and growth, he hinted on the model where farmers grow bananas with a ready market. Within such places, processing firms for products such as banana cookies, smoothies, bread among other products can be set up to provide ready markets for the bananas. Mr. Dennis Moiro, a consultant agrees on nothing less, he looks at the tomato value chain as a whole industry to be looked at beyond the tomato farming for local market trading only. For your information, there are a dozen or so products that can be made from tomato value addition. With the improved quality agriculture, we could develop specific value chains that will change the communities where the animal and plant farming is practiced.
We met in town with two of my friends, Lewis Munene and Robert Agolla to have a general brainstorm discussion. We ended up talking into depth on agriculture as a whole. We realized that value addition is becoming critical with the empowerment that is increasingly making the modern woman a corporate person as opposed to a stay at home woman. The impact is that it will require the women do shopping on the products they will use for a week or so. Turning the agricultural products into form which can stay longer before they can spoil will give the entrepreneur who get there a competitive edge. Such products can also be sold widely on the Shopping malls mushrooming in the region.
While sharing on beef farming with Mr. Rodger Wekhamba, a leading consultant and entrepreneur, he hinted of the more than five industries that can come up with the pursuing of that sector. The meat processing itself, the abattoirs, the skin processing industry (leather), the organic fertilizer/manure, biogas plant for production of electricity, the buttons industry and many more others. It simply translates to solving the issue of joblessness within the region. I definitely could not agree on anything less than what Mr. Wekhamba had said.
Facing the giant
“So do you think the people will be willing to welcome good investments that can transform this area?” was the question I asked Winnie Seleina in Narok while exploring on the easiness of such projects cutting through to the communities. “It will be hard because the people are still immune and receptive to outsiders coming to invest here,” she said. I thought for a moment and realized this projects need first what Prof. Ndemo calls “evangelism” so that the people can become aware of the importance they can harness from embracing smart agriculture and making industries out of them. The evangelism will be done by local leaders who themselves see the value and then the actual investments can take place. Tribalism, corruption and divisive politics should be fought if such transformations are to be seen taking shape any time soon.
The landscape is changing. Change is hard to be accepted. For those who sniff the change and scurry into action, it is a huge gain for them. There is a lot of light at the end of the tunnel and with that they stand to reap big in terms of investment returns and community leadership at large.
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