Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Are we having too much Agricultural Talk to ourselves?

Photo Credit: Photocase.com
I am an ardent conference attendant, agricultural related ones to be specific. It’s more of a habit I developed way back in campus as an avenue for bringing to practice the theory I learnt in class. Of late, I have developed a liking for those whose focus is geared towards that overly famous term Food Security.  I call it famous because if you do a major keyword search on it, it ranks highest where agricultural matters persist.  And just like Technology makes Africa appear sexy, Food security takes over where matters of Agriculture thrive.

That was the same feeling I was left with when I attended a recently organized Africa Food Security Conference and Agri Exhibition in Nairobi. At some point, the “Enough is Enough” voice inside of me developed some sort of energy. This is how it all went down.

I was looking for content to help me understand the state of Food Insecurity in Kenya as part of feeding my farming mind and along the way I stumbled upon the conference call. Its location being in Nairobi made it much easier for me to attend. As usual, there were some new learning’s gained in the process, some common ones and the worst case scenario. For the sake of it, I will lump them up in to the good, the sorry and the worst.

The Good Side
If you have ever been in the horticulture industry, then KEPHIS is no newcomer to you. These are like the Kenya Bureau of Standards mandated to certify agricultural inputs and produce for both imports and exports. My “wow” moment with them was when I realized they have an Electronic Certification System that has been in place since last year. The ECS , a business to government and government to government web system allows for ease in preparation of export documentation for export produce in the case of both cut flowers and fresh produce. 
Photo credit:IITA

The other one was courtesy of IITA  whose product AflaSafe , a safe and cost effective biocontrol product helps  reduce the presence of  aflatoxins both in the field and in the stores. Its basically a mixture of four atoxigenic strains of A. flavus of Nigerian origin held together by colonized sorghum grains and are usually broadcast on fields 10-20kg/ha 2-3 weeks before the flowering of the crop in question occurs. With a lot of our produce being burnt due to aflatoxin contamination, and Aflasafe having been documented to decrease contamination of groundnuts and maize in Nigeria by 80%, -90% in the last two years, it seems quite a viable option for eradicating aflatoxins. Read more about it HERE 

The Sorry Side
Dr Betty Achan Ogwaro who was the Minister for Agriculture for South Sudan was scheduled to attend as one of the keynote speakers on transforming agricultural systems and farming for the 21st century. A week prior to the conference, the president decided to sack all of the cabinet ministers. Reasons behind this remained unknown to us and as a result she couldn't make it to come
Can you imagine?

The Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad.........
I have a very big problem when 98% of the conference attendants are 55+ in terms of age and a majority working in Not-for-Profit institutions. The very few young faces present were journalists whose major interest was to cover the stories. The only young people present there were Charles Muthui, a practicing farmer in Nyeri who graduated the other day from Maseno University and chose livestock keeping as his full time venture. Also present was MuhammedMukanda, a young person advocating for more young people to join the venture and lastly me. None of us had a formal invite. We found ourselves there.

The state of presentations was also quite wanting. If the slides were not swamped with lots of detailed writings, then some presenters reported on what their organizations are mandated to do rather than what they have done or are have been doing to ensure food insecurity is a problem of the past.

The other point is on not having resolutions after the conference. So people have come and gathered together to share their insights on how to make Africa food secure. So what?  Apart from the lovely cups as take away gifts, what’s the resolve towards the theme “Sustainable Food Security to Match Economic Growth-Seeking long-term commitment to ending hunger in Africa”? If we can’t go beyond using keywords like Food Security to make agriculture look sexy, then that might be one of the many reasons that ten or twenty years from now, we shall look back nostalgically at the state of food insecurity in the world.

Last but not least, the organizers didn't give me a lunch voucher for the second day which meant I had to pay for my lunch. And of course you know Laico Regency aint my everyday joint in the hood. So definitely my pockets shed a few tears  L L

My take
Every conference needs a balance between practitioners sharing knowledge, farmers airing their challenges and a youth presence to maintain a sustainability element as agricultural torch bearers. I am lucky to have served and still continue to serve in all the three capacities. Without all these coming together, we might be just like that man who winks at a woman in the dark. Only he knows what he is doing.

I rest my case!