Agriculture is the major contributor of the Kenyan economy. It is the leading economic sector, accounting for approximately 51 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) both directly and indirectly. The sector also employs more than 75 percent of the workforce. Growth of the national economy is therefore highly correlated to growth and development in agriculture.
Now that agriculture is a major contributor of the Kenyan economy, it’s important to understand some of the factors that cause agricultural productivity to decrease and how innovation can help increase agricultural productivity.
Weather:The changing and unpredictable rainy seasons in the country has greatly affected their ability of farmers to plan their farming activities. Unusual weather patterns, such as drought, a prolonged rainy season and other factors, can ruin crops and bring productivity down.
Disease and pests: Pests and diseases have continued to cause a lot of losses to farmers. This is caused by lack of information by the farmers on how to control these diseases. Post-harvest losses are caused by poor handling and storage facilities.
Poor soil quality: The continuous cultivation and reduction of fallow periods has led to rapid depletion of soil nutrients, declining yields and environmental degradation. Farmers need information on the right farming practices aimed at restoring the soil nutrient.
Limited access to extension service: There is limited access to extension services in most parts of the country with the National extension staff: farmer ratio standing at 1:1,500. This situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological advances
Poor seeds quality: Poor seed quality can decrease productivity. Farmers with access to specialized seeds such as crop hybrids specifically developed to produce more can improve their productivity.
The capacity of a given farm: This is another important factor. Soil cannot be forced to produce beyond capacity, although there are methods that can be used to improve production capacity, such as fertilizing to add nutrients to the soil so that it can support more crops
Use of inputs– Most farmers lack information on the right type of farm inputs to use and the appropriate time of application of the same. The cost of key inputs such as seed, pesticides, fertilizer, drugs and vaccines is high for poor farmers. Most farmers therefore do not use them and this greatly reduces the yield that the farmers get.
Lack of agribusiness mindset– Innovation is a key factor for agricultural productivity. Farmers who can develop creative ways to farm smarter, as it were, will experience productivity increases. If there are enough entrepreneurs to make agribusiness work, farming can actually work.
Importance of extension service in the sector
The agricultural sector extension service plays a key role in; disseminating knowledge, technologies and agricultural information, and in linking farmers with other actors in the economy. The extension service is one of the critical change agents required in transforming farming to modern and commercial agriculture to promote household food security, improve income and reduce poverty.
However there is limited access to extension services in most parts of the country with the National extension staff: farmer ratio standing at 1:1,500. This situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological advances. There is therefore need for recruitment of more extension staff and the involvement of NGO’s in the grassroot to increase access of extension services to farmers.
How innovation improves agricultural productivity
Improving agricultural productivity is one of the most pressing issues in Kenya. Technological innovation, especially in mobile, is critical in improving productivity. Mobile technology can radically transform smallholder farmers’ access to critical and timely information. Critical and timely information is very important when it comes to agriculture. mAgric applications are being developed that allow farmers to call a helpline and get advice from an agriculture extension service provider or receive personalized daily agriculture alerts through SMS or voicemail. Farmers get up-to-date information on pests and diseases, seed and input varieties, fertilizer outlets, weather, market prices, and so on. Farmers are able to track inventories and crop activities and monitor and report on crop cycles and yields. Mobile technology has also enabled farmers to access mobile payment systems that provide them with the ability to exchange money easily
In many African countries, agricultural extension agents are stretched to service up to 4,000 farmers each, which results in long delays between visits. Mobile phones technology provides a complementary way to reach farmers with timely and personalized information.