According to the African Union (AU), the number of hungry people in Africa has increased by 20 per cent from 176 million in 1993 to 210 million in 2006. One of the reasons behind this is farmers' practice of traditional farming due to lack of adequate knowledge. For example, Eunice Wambeti, a farmer in Itabua-Eastern Kenya, owns a three acre piece of land on which she has been consistently planting maize and beans. She sprinkles ash and pepper on her yield to keep away weevils. She has not placed her hands on other crops such as bananas, mangoes, cowpeas among others which can thrive well. This has led to declining soil fertility and yields.
Eunice is not alone. A lot more farmers lack adequate knowledge on how to run their farms. Being illiterate, some cannot read given instructions. They end up mixing chemicals wrongly or using the wrong ones.
Waswa, another farmer, blames this on the educated. “I do not know how I am supposed to apply some of these chemicals. That is why I would rather go for traditional farming than modern farming methods. People who are educated on this should teach us how to use and store them properly even if it is at a fee.”
While this is happening, it is quite discouraging that the Agriculture subject is no longer a preference for students. In a workshop Re engineering Agricultural Education and Training for Industrialization and Development in Nairobi-Kenya, lecturers complained that enrolment in agriculture and allied sciences in Kenyan Universities is on a steady decline. “The choice of agriculture as a career by secondary school graduates has not been encouraging. Many of those pursuing agriculture find themselves in this programmes for lack of better opportunities. The number of those who are genuinely enthusiastic about the subject is decreasing,” observed Prof. Njoroge, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s Dean, Faculty of Agriculture.
This has led to students that enroll in the Agriculture department to shift to other departments after one or two years of admission. Even those that complete their studies do not work in the agriculture sector. According to one student, the subject has very little to offer. It does not promise white collar jobs after completion. “I have seen my friends look for jobs for over two years. The few with jobs are not even in the agriculture sector. That’s why we are shifting to other departments,” she says.
For a long time in Kenya, agriculture has been perceived as an activity for the uneducated and retirees.“If you are graduate and resolve to farming, you will be the talk of the village. Everyone will be wondering why you had to go the University after all. You would have as well foregone your studies,” says John Musa.
This perception needs to change. What people fail to know is that farming has a lot to offer. Through farming, one can sell excess yields and earn from that. One can offer job opportunities to the unemployed. Adding value to one's products would increase income.
John Njeru quit his well paying job to practice farming. Most of his friends were against it. “I planted grafted mangoes and paw paws and today the demand for my products is too high. I earn more than what I used to in my formal employment. I have no regrets. I am thinking of buying more acres of land.”
Njeru does not only sell the raw product but has added value to this. He makes fresh juice from his products and distributes it to some hotels and schools around his area. He has a workforce of seven people. In a month, he makes a profit of Ksh. 120,000.
He is one person who has succeeded from agriculture. It is therefore absurd to see fewer students enrolling for agriculture and the attitude people perceive about agriculture yet Africa has been experiencing famine every now and then. The end result is usually food aid that is poured into the continent. For how long will this go on?
Both lecturers and students of agriculture need to approach the subject from a business perspective if students have to value agriculture. If students practiced agriculture with the aim of making profit, famine would be a thing of the past. If each farmer knew that he could earn much more from his farm, he would take care of it. University graduates can also train farmers on the need to practice modern agriculture and new products in the market among others. This should be done at a cost, since the farmer is benefiting.
It is time all stakeholders in agriculture popularized agriculture alongside their brands. Syngenta East Africa’s slogan: Seed a Nation: Feed a Nation should sink down into every farmer. It is not yet time to quit agriculture when the continent is underfed. When Africa embraces modern farming technologies, when Africa shall be able to feed itself, when a single farmer shall be able to produce yields worth feeding fifty people beside himself, time shall be ripe to venture into other service industries. This can only be achieved by use of pesticides, herbicides and improved seeds among others.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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