Agriculture involves the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock for food, the most basic of human needs. The first ecologists, farmers, understood the interaction of soil, water, grasses and trees; they understood the need to work with nature to produce sufficiency or abundance, and to try to avert scarcity in times of drought or pestilence. Agriculture dictated the survival and development of societies, and security in food allowed the growth of modern industrial states.
In today’s interdependent and technological world of global markets and distribution systems, agriculture has become an essential element of national and international economies. Food is a commodity for trade, and food security is a matter of global concern. The future security of the world’s food supply has focused international discussion on one over-arching question: Can agricultural systems meet the demands of a rising world population and expanded expectations on the one hand, and deal with the deterioration of land and soil resources on the other?
Many scientists today believe that modern agricultural practices, which have increased efficiency and production to an extent unknown in history, now appear to be exhausting the agricultural ecosystem. A movement towards more sustainable agricultural practices has begun. On the other hand, agribusinesses point to new science and technology based on genetic engineering and other methods that may revolutionize the food industry.
Kenya, rich in resources, has always been a major exporter of food. Kenyans, like other societies, have seen farmlands and farm communities as part of their environmental heritage, national identity and culture. But in today’s world of supermarkets, fast foods and freezer containers, where food is available to all who can afford it, many urbanized Kenyans have lost the connection between the food they eat and the land that produces it, not recognizing the profound changes that agribusiness has brought to farming communities, the farming way of life and the environment.
In recent years, concerns about pesticide use, biotechnology and other issues have focused public attention on the quality and safety of food and industrial farming techniques, and spurred interest in alternatives. Resolving issues regarding the sustainability of Kenyan agriculture will involve a new recognition of the integrity of nature and ecosystems and the wisdom of farming methods in harmony with the local environment, while at the same time utilizing the best national and international science and technology to maintain food security levels and meet the challenge of rising populations and deteriorating land and soil resources.
Players of Agribusiness in Kenya
From Sugarcane farming in the western region to tea farming in the Western Kenya region, livestock keeping in northern Kenya, maize farming in the north rift and fishing in the Indian Ocean, smallholder producers face more or less the same hurdles to wealth creation. The good news is that opportunities exist to make farming, including the small-scale types, a profitable venture for anyone. One of the ways of bringing shine to the much-neglected sector is by adopting sustainable agribusiness.
Agribusiness is a broad area and covers the entire spectrum of food production with multiple players along the value chain. It includes farming, the supply of various inputs, distribution, processing, wholesale and retail sales, research and development, marketing and financing as well as the end product: the food on the plate of the consumer.
The key players in the value chain include the farmers, co-operatives, regulators, government agencies, research institutions, companies, business associations, financial institutions, multilateral bodies, civil society, and the academia.
Sustainable agriculture is not singularly fixated on the profit motive. It considers the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of various activities along the value chain. It supports the local economy through knowledge transfer, job creation, supporting local enterprises and ensuring food safety and security.
The academia can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable agribusiness through carrying out research on new ways of doing agriculture such as better and eco-friendly ways of increasing the soil fertility, increasing animal produce, among other things.
There are various businesses that do a lot with regard to promoting sustainable and inclusive agriculture. There is also a need for improvement in infrastructure, climate change mitigation and adaptation, research and extension, value addition and skills upgrading.
As long as funding remains limited or is diverted by officials, farming will remain unattractive and farmers will continue to suffer in spite of their toil. Lack of trust across the value chain is another issue with many farmers perceiving middlemen as exploiters. The other key aspect is the imbalance of trade between Kenya and its trading partners. Take for instance, coffee and tea which are grossly under-priced with farmers barely meeting the cost of their investment.
Yet the same commodities fetch better prices once they leave the farmers’ hands. The widespread failure to add value to farmers’ produce denies producers the opportunity to earn the true value of their produce. It also denies local entrepreneurs and budding industrialists the opportunity to grow new lines of business and create jobs for many jobless Kenyans. Value addition requires policy intervention through a favorable tax regime, lower cost of power, improved infrastructure and government commitment to find markets outside its borders.
Kenyan farmers and especially the youths are urged to indulge in farming and more specifically agribusiness. Do it for fun and money!