Jan 10, 2018

Agricultural technologies: Lessons from Israel

The year 2017 was a challenging one for any economic growth analyst focusing on Kenya. The national government and development partners such as the World Bank and the IMF had to severally revise downwards the initial overall growth projections. Other than the extended electioneering period and a slowdown in private sector credit growth, the country experienced drought in most parts of the country.

The critical role played by agriculture is underpinned by the ripple effects that cut across sectors. The drought served as a stark reminder, if there was need for any, on the magnitude of the problem of climate change and food security in the country.

For a country that has approximately 75% of its population involved in some measure in agriculture, the immediate concerns are immense. Why are we not producing enough? How can a developing country cushion itself against such variables as less than expected rainfall in the light of limited resources?

A quick scan on agricultural success stories to benchmark from almost inevitably points you to Israel. The middle eastern state is a major exporter of fresh produce and a world-leader in agricultural technologies despite the fact that the geography of Israel is not naturally conducive to agriculture. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Israel not only produces most of its own food, but also exports $1.3 billion worth of agricultural produce annually.  It’s interesting to note that almost 62% of the irrigation water used in Israel comes from recycled and brackish water, thus saving potable water for domestic use.

In a nutshell, the nexus between water management and adoption of appropriate agricultural technologies has been a critical element of that growth.

What can we deduce from this highly successful model?

  1. Develop high-yield crops and livestock
    Increased research into plant breeding, which takes into account the unique soil types of Africa, is a major requirement. The right varieties of the crops and livestock that are best suited to the local conditions have to be introduced.
  2. Mechanize

Kenya also desperately needs to increase its yields per hectare in order promote sustainable crop production. The higher the rate of mechanization, the better the efficiency levels. Significant capital investments will have to continue by channeled by both private and public sector.

   3. Boost irrigation
With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms.

4. Increase the use of the right fertilizers
As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Deliberate efforts to ensure to ensure the right type of fertilizers are available at the right price, and at the right times. Organic fertilizers present a strong case in terms of both increasing yields and environmental responsiveness. Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes significantly.

5. Step up integration into Agricultural Value Chains
Driven partly by the growth of international supermarket chains, African economies have progressively diversified from traditional cash crops into fruits, vegetables, fish, and flowers. However, lack of access to finance and poor infrastructure have slowed progress. Government support, crucial to coordinate the integration of smallholder farmers into larger cooperatives and groups, may be needed in other areas that aid integration with wider markets.

KCIC has been supporting enterprises that have innovations that are disruptive in their approach to agriculture. Hydroponics Africa set up smart, water efficient hydroponic (soil less) systems for farmers. Ukulima Tech have incorporated remote irrigation systems to vertical farming that can even be done in urban areas. Ecodudu have ventured into black soldier fly production that is processed as animal feed. The list goes on.

By Curtis Musembi




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