Farming technologies in Kenya need to co-exist

by James Kamuye Kataru

The Kenyan agricultural technology activism can be compared to the story of a group of blind men who heard there was an elephant in town. So out of curiosity, they rushed to the location of the animal to try and discover for themselves what it felt like. After groping, and feeling different parts of the elephant, each blind man shouted out loud their impression of what the elephant was!

Unfortunately, most farming professionals, extensionists, enthusiasts, and the media are confusing the public with loud shouts of how their technology is the best way to farm and handle challenges brought about by population explosion, climate change, and dwindling food stocks. This makes farming the “big elephant in town”!

Its not easy to tell what technology has been used to grow these beans since the difference is negligible. Image by: Kataru Concepts

Media watchers will agree that instead of wasting time competing to shout how all other technologies are better than biotechnology, activists should stop confusing the public who yearn to understand and tell the difference (in case there is any). It sounds strange to farmers when these technologies compete for space on their small farms and lives while at war but still promising increased yields, lower costs of farming inputs, higher shelf life while maintaining quality, etc.

Instead of sharing technology and comparing the output soberly, you’ll find proponents of organic farming heaping all sorts of blames on conventional farming blaming it for all the wrongs that ever happened to soils as those who support it belittle conservation farming thinking it’s from the dark ages and should be forgotten altogether.

In response, you will find conventional farming activists ganging up with organic and conservation farming proponents to demonize GMO technology without seeking to understand the practice first, yet all technologies promise to fight climate change and grow a food secure society.

On the “chopping table” of these wars we’ve had lovers of the following technologies go for each other’s practices, describing theirs as the best and friendlier than all the rest, while heaping more blame on the new kid on block (GMO technology);        

Conventional farming: I may describe this as the basic agricultural practice most of the present day farmers have grown up on. Households have been using industrial fertilizers bought from local agro-vet shops for planting and top dressing crops.

In essence, farmers use industrial fertilizers, recommended herbicides and pesticides with chemical compounds to control weeds and pests, and of course the use of post-harvest loss prevention agents mixed in grains and legumes.

As much as this technology is blamed for a myriad of farming problems, some farmers still trust in its effectiveness and so by telling them to stop and adopt another technology they’ve never learnt or used before may cause resistance, however good it might be.

Organic farming: Organic farming advocates push for the exclusion of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides though in certain cases, it also allows “natural” fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides – some which are very toxic – just not processed and man-made. Farmers are encouraged to use locally found materials such as crop remains, kitchen waste, chicken droppings, and cow dung to prepare compost rich in organic compounds that improve the soil structure.

However, not all farmers have the time and patience to make compost while others choose to use both organic and conventional farming techniques. Telling such farmers to drop one technique in favor of the other may not be possible unless solutions are provided to the challenges they face in preferred practices.

Conservation agriculture: “Conservation” is a wonderful term that I may say is most likely being misused by those behind its application in farming. Protection of our environment is a basic human responsibility, but the exploration of the “means” to achieve that should not bar other technologies which factor conservation as a primary requirement.     

GMO technology:  This is the newest of the listed that’s receiving wrong interpretations and misconceptions by those who push for the first three (Conventional, conservation and organic). GMO technology needs to be given space on our farms and communities without undue negative influence and resistance. Farmers need to get the right information about the technology and judge for themselves.

Every new technology experiences resistance and apathy before being accepted and implemented. In my opinion, all technologies need to be given space and professionals in the fields of interest listened to. While listing examples of what works and what doesn’t, we need to use examples that are accessible, verifiable, and real without exaggerations meant to push a cause.

All these technologies have been scientifically researched, enough time and resources put into each as the main goal remains a food secure nation that observes a healthy environment in the fight against climate change. Let us allow all the technologies to co-exist!   

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