Revolutionizing Agriculture: Strategies for Successful Commercialization.

George Kay Kabiru II

The  Agriculture sector is the backbone of the Kenyan economy as it contributes to 33% of Kenya’s GDP and employs 40% of the total population and 70% of the rural population. It’s interesting to note that the service based industries contribute to 53% of the GDP while only utilizing 38% of the Labour force, this perhaps may be indicative of the fact that our agricultural processes are primarily manual based and there are opportunities in commercializing agriculture if we apply modern farming strategies that will increase the quality and output of agricultural products.

Nearly half of Kenya’s territory is covered by agriculture, 21% of this makes up arable land (any land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops), while 77% of agricultural land is used for permanent pasture. Farmers rely mainly on rainfall as the main source of irrigation, and Kenya has mainly two seasons although of late climate change has become a factor leading to Kenya experiencing a higher level of drought and random locust infestations in the recent past has limited our agricultural production output leading to higher prices being charged on agricultural products.

The important questions then become:

  1. How, then, do we reduce the reliance on rain-fed irrigation?
  2. How do we turn areas like the North Eastern region of Kenya into Agricultural hubs?
  3. How do we commercialize agriculture in Kenya?

To best answer these questions, we need to look at countries that have modernized Agriculture; the best example so far is China. According to the World Bank Collection of Development Indicators, only 11.6% of land in China is arable, yet China has the capacity to feed 20% of the Global population.

Modern farming strategies practiced in China that can be employed in Kenya.

  1. Vertical farming strategy:
    This is a modern farming method that sees the growing of crops done vertically as crops are stacked against one another. This mode of farming is not dependent on rain-fed irrigation and maximizes the use of available land and space. Vertical farming can be practiced not just in rural areas but also in urban areas, which can potentially convert areas such as Nairobi into bread baskets.
    A key benefit of the vertical farming method is that it allows a farmer to control the conditions under which crops are grown, resulting in crops that taste better and higher yields of crops being produced.
    Plants grown under this practice are better for human consumption as the controlled environment reduces the need to use chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Vertical farming allows almost anyone in Kenya an opportunity to be a farmer; someone living in an apartment in Langata can practice vertical farming.
  2. Aquaponics farming strategy:
    This modern farming strategy takes into consideration two farming practices: aquaculture (farming of fish) and hydroponics. This modern technique results in greater efficiency in farming as less water and land are required for farming.
    This technique creates a closed-loop system that sees the plants purify water for the fish and waste from the fish being used as a natural fertilizer. One clear benefit is that less chemicals are used, and the second and more economic benefit is that the farmer has two outputs that are Fish and crop products. If Kenyan farmers adopt such a farming practice, then it will easily translate into a healthier-looking bank balance for the farmer.
    This writer firmly believes that once farming starts making cents to the farmer then commercialization of our Agriculture will also make sense. According to research gate, the highest number of ponds and aquaculture-related activities are found in Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Kisii Meru, Nyeri, Kisumu Muranga, and Embu, among others. I hope that the practice of aquaponics will soon follow suit.
  3. Precision farming strategy:
    This farming method is all about using data to improve crop production. If only 21% of Kenya’s land is arable, then how do we maximize the use of that land in order to get the best and most yields? The answer is data.
    Data-driven decisions have led to higher quality decisions being arrived at across various sectors in Kenya, such as technology and service-based sectors, and it’s high time the same was applied in farming. Precision farming utilizes satellite technology in order to best understand the health of the soil and nutrients that are available; this use of technology enables farmers and their stakeholders to plant crops that are the most ideal for that area, which will result in higher and better quality yields. 
    For many years Western Kenya region has been thought to be the best sugarcane producer. However, recent research shows that Tana River County along the Tana Athi delta also has great potential for sugar production, and through applying precision farming technology, Kenya can unlock and identify further areas that are most favorable for the growing of certain crops.
  4. Hydroponics farming Strategy:
    This farming method replaces soil and, in turn, grows crops in water that is rich in nutrients. This farming technique gives farmers greater control as he/she is able to control the level of nutrients in the water leading to higher and better-quality yields. Hydroponics has less water wastage and farming under this method can be done almost all year round as the water is recycled through the system.

Apart from introducing revolutionary farming strategies, another consideration might be to reevaluate what we grow. Kenya is known for producing products such as Maize and Sugarcane for local consumption, while horticulture, coffee, and tea make up a substantial amount of what we export. It may be worth considering specializing in the production of other crops, such as dragon fruit, where a single acre can yield as much as Kshs 24 million per acre.