Poor Harvests: Kenya’s Mets are Not to Blame

Published on 21st December 2009

The bid by the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KNAFP) to sue the country’s meteorological department for losses incurred after the failed El Nino rains calls for the country to rethink its farming system.

The success rate of between 85 to 95 percent in crop harvesting achieved in  irrigated areas such as Tana River, Hola and Bura should serve as a pointer that Kenyan (and by extension African) farmers should quit rain fed agriculture and adopt irrigation as well as technology fed agriculture.

In spite of its vast agricultural potential, Africa imports US$19 billion of food each year. At over 500 million hectares, the potential agricultural area in Africa is larger than the European Union. But average grain yields are less than a third of what is achieved in other developing regions. This is partly attributed to large areas of high-potential cropland in countries such as Tanzania and Ethiopia remaining under-used; lack of infrastructure (such as roads and storage facilities); restricted access to agronomic inputs (such as high quality seeds, fertilizers and crop protection products), limited farming knowledge; poor health and poor soils.

Increasing farm productivity is key to food security, economic development and poverty alleviation. It has been proven that irrigated land is twice as productive as rain-fed land. Africa must therefore increase its area of irrigated land (just 4 percent of farms in sub-Saharan Africa are irrigated) and invest in measuring the amount of water that each crop type needs to avoid wastage.


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