After God and mothers,farmers have to be the most important people on this planet, without whom we would not be alive today.Am sure all the politicians,philosophers,religious leaders,musicians and plastic surgeons must be disappointed to think that we cannot live without them but it is true.Farmers provide the food ( fuel) that we use to run our frail human bodies and without which like all living things we would die
Agriculture has played a very important role in the development of human civilization as we know it today when man was able to domesticate plants and animals..This is especially so when you think about the Agrarian revolution that was responsible for much of the human settlements that have contibuted today to civilization.The US,Canada,France,Australia and Spain rank among the countries that export the most agricultural produce in the world,a map showing the top 10 countries can be found here.These countries are also among the most developed which goes to show feeding yourself as a country and developemtn goes hand in hand.
Human beings can survive without mobile phones,ipods and ipads,cars,clothes and beer but no one can do without food and we owe the lives we have to the tenacity of farmers and their belief that feeding the human race is a noble thing to do.That is why farmers the world over are renowned for being early risers before the crack of dawn to ensure that the billions who populate the earth are fed.
As Eastern Africa faces the worst drought and famine in decades,we have put out our begging bowls and we are waiting for the west to come and fill them up with food to feed our starving children yet we have done little to improve the conditions of our farmers or make their work easier.Farmers are the last people government would think of consulting when they ordered for the GMO maize to stem the deficit that has seen the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour triple in the last 12 months.Being a Kenyan and having lived in a farming community for a while i have seen the grunt work that goes towards making sure that the you get the packet of milk that makes part of your morning tea ,it takes a lot of work and dedication,visits from the veterinarian officer,and a lot of money sunk into a project which lives on faith and hope.Farmers are never guaranteed that the hard work they put in will be rewarded,the rains may fail,livestock may get sick or the price of seeds and fertilizer may sky rocket.
Last year when we saw a bumper harvest especially in the Rift Valley region that is considered Kenya’s grain basket,the government must have been asleep because a lot of maize went to waste as farmers had their granaries full and there was no storage place for the surplus.Seeing that we have never put up any grain storage facilities since independence yet we are growing at the rate of one million every year the national silos were full and there is never any place we can store surplus.Fast forward 12 months later and we are in a crisis ,the country has no maize reserves and we have to look for the precious grain elsewhere.Our fondness for ugali (a dough like mixture of water and maize meal/cornflour) can only be rivalled by our love for tea and it is disconcerting that many Kenyan household have been forced to forgo this delicacy and have to resort to alternatives that are easier on the pocket but certainly not as filling.
As much as our country seeks to be a middle income economy by the year 2030 and continues to shout from the rooftops that it is ready for investment ,can it feed itself?Farming has always been shunned because it does not carry the prestige of a blue collar or white collar job that entails sittng in an office and drinking copious amounts of coffee and samosas without any thought as to how they landed on your desk.Our farmers are the most important resource we have.We cannot boast of being a regional super power when our farmers cannot afford a bag of fertilizer that goes for kshs 1500($20).
What is even more saddening is that government seems to be blind to the encroachment of fertile agricultural land that is being turned into real estate.I had written an article about that here and the country also lacks policies that could govern land use and ensure that we safeguard agricultural land.It seems we are more concerned with living in palatial homes complete with Italian marble rather than in feeding our children.
How many Kenyans know that April 17th is International Farmers day,we know of a Father’s day,Mothers day heck we even celebrate Halloween but you will not catch a Kenyan celebrating farmers day,hell would soon freeze over before we do that.We need to start appreciating these men and women and even children who put the food we enjoy at our dinner tables.The government needs to make life easier for the Kenyan farmer.There are some insurance companies like APA that are providing farmers with insurance cover but more needs to be done.We need to ensure our farmers are able to transport their produce to the markets by having better roads and improving our rail transport.We need to invest time and money in ensuring that our farmers get access to information that will see them employ the best farming practices to ensure they get good yields from their crops and livestock.
I am yet to hear any of the presidential candidates talk about how they are going to tackle the perennial grain shortage in the country,how they will improve the condition of the Kenyan farmer or even what policies they are going to put in place to ensure that the Kenyan farmers life is made just a little bit easier.
We need to hear how the next government is going to tackle the never ending cycle of begging for food aid every year.It is a shame that a country such as ours so richly blessed with agricultural land is unable to feed itself ,yet countries like Israel and Egypt which are less endowed are not only able to feed their people but export food to other countries.How many times have we heard of the government investing in agriculture except when it is to subsidize fertilizer?
We need the next cabinet secretary in charge of the ministry of agriculture to be passionate about feeding Kenyans.We need a Joseph to save us from the looming famine that is staring us in the face every year,we need a visionary man or woman who is going to drive this sector of the economy forward.
If you ask any Kenyan school going children if they ever want to be a farmer,none of them dare answer in the affirmative.Everyone wants to be in IT,own a business and drive a flashy car without getting their hands dirty.Yet we fail to ask ourselves what we will be eating in the comfort of our air conditioned offices,busy with making our country the next big thing in the business process outsourcing industry .Will we be exporting our food?
Granted there are a few brave Kenyans who have ventured into agriculture as a side hustle while they maintain regular jobs in the urban centres but this is not enough to be able to feed the growing population of Kenyans.
A country that cannot feed itself is a shame to the rest of the world,a country that cannot support its farmers is like a man who forgets his mother in the village when he gets to the big city.Yes it is true next to mothers ,farmers come a close second.