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May 27, 2013

Kenya Aims for Food Self-Sufficiency

by Reuben Kyama

With more than 40 million people, Kenya is one of East Africa’s most populous countries. But over the years, long droughts have led to a serious shortage of water and food – making it harder to meet the demand for food.
The new government under President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to turn around the situation – by transforming Kenya from a food-deficit country to a food sufficient nation.

Within days of his appointment on May 15, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Felix Kiptarus Koskei, said he favors home grown solutions that not only ensure food self-reliance but also transform society.

“We will emphasize extension services where our officers will train local farmers on crop husbandry, and ensure that whatever they are planting is planted well and that the farm inputs are used very well,” he said.

Koskei said his ministry was determined to help farmers improve their yields by ensuring that subsidized, imported farm inputs such as fertilizers reached them by the beginning of every planting season. 
 
Asked about the use of genetically modified seeds, and of food produced from them,  the cabinet secretary said he would base his decisions on science.
 
“As you are aware GMO is a science,” he said. “[The controversy over using GMO seeds] cannot be solved by moral arguments, by faith standpoints, by spiritual decisions. Let the scientists give us the answer. We have the Biosafety Authority which is mandated to look at any genetic-based issues. We have highly qualified scientists in this country, and we are urging them to come up and confirm to Kenyans whether or not GMO has a negative effect.

Aside from an emphasis on improving extension services and improved inputs, he said the government will choose new areas for irrigation, including those next to the Tana and Galana rivers, like Bura and Hola. 

“We are to irrigate a million acres in five years,” he said, “and this will begin immediately. Within two to three years we will have enough food for Kenyans.”
Koskei said the drive for independence in domestic food production would take precedence over deals to export food.
 
“We are now focusing on food security first, “ he said. “I know countries such as Qatar would want to lease and expect to grow food to export to their home countries, but we need to be realistic. We need to be self-sufficient, and then the surplus can be exported.”

Intvw w/ Kenya's Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Felix Kiptarus Koskei