By Denis Bollo
Agriculture is the backbone of the Kenya economy and food security is part of the big four agenda of President Kenyatta’s government.
To achieve food security, we must streamline all aspects in the value chain from production to marketing. This is because food insecurity starts gearing when there is lack of knowledge on post- harvest handling of produce. We have had various campaigns urging youths to actively engage in business in agriculture in order to create jobs and ensure we have food security.
But youth commitment to engage in agribusiness has been very low since most of them migrate to urban areas in search for white collar jobs leaving the aged and the women in rural areas. These cannot actively engage in agriculture and thus full potential of agriculture cannot be felt in rural areas.
Lack of access to finance in support of agriculture has been a challenge to the youths who would like to start or scale up their farming operations. There are many youth financial services available in Kenya but the most unfortunate thing is that the youths are unaware of this financial service providers and if they are aware the requirements are much demanding, you are required to provide a collateral as a security for you to be given the loan,
The other challenge is that the youth who would want to engage in agriculture finds it difficult to access loans since banks require title deeds to ensure that, even if they are setting up greenhouse in that land, there will be no conflict of interest arising.
Even if the youths are given financial aid and have access to land, the issue of marketing and post -harvest handling of their produce becomes farmers underwent heavy losses due to market crunch. They were forced to feed their tomato to cows.
The huge influx of the agricultural produce during the peak season exacerbates the challenge, horticultural produce like tomatoes, kales, fruits etc. are very perishable and if they are not stored properly at the required temperature they perish and deteriorate in value very fast which will lead to loss of quality, quantity and market value thus rendering agriculture unprofitable business.
To solve the problem of perishability, the some big farms have installed cold rooms where the horticultural produce harvested from the farm are stored as they await or look for the market. This is indeed very nice as far as food security is concerned, but now the issue comes in to those youths who are actively engaged in agriculture and want to see value in agriculture as far as food loss is concerned. They are unable to purchase the storage cold rooms because these cold rooms are far much beyond their reach.
The good news is that Rockfeller foundation in collaboration with the University of Nairobi launched food preservation projects in Embu County where they launched the use of brick coolers and charcoal coolers in preservation of the horticultural produce.
The brick cooler and the charcoal cooler works under the principle of evaporative cooling mechanism as water evaporates it produces a cooling effect, this makes them efficient because they do not require electricity to operate hence cheaper and can be adopted easily. The brick coolers and charcoal coolers can either be constructed at the farm level and at the market level to also aid the traders in preservation of their produces which were not sold awaiting for sales tomorrow.
The coolers provide the low temperature which also ensures that food is safe as food contaminant causing pathogen will find it difficult to survive or sporulate. Currently the issue of food safety has been placed at the fore-front, campaigns and policy advocacy on food safety are being done just to create awareness. Safe food gives traders who are handling the foods a bigger bargaining power in the market.
Early this month SOCAA in collaboration with CUTS, SACDEP and SNV launched a county assured produce scheme which is a scheme meant to see farmers organized in groups working together with the guide of extension officer while following the steps or procedure laid at KS 1758. The produce are then packed well with a trade mark on it giving a brief description of the product, how the production has been done and whether it is conventional or organically produced in an effort to have a quality mark for the produce which will help them have a good bargaining power in the market as consumers will build trust in their produce, this will in turn leads to more revenue collection on the side of the county government which will thus call for initiation of other more development projects. Food safety and food security runs co-currently and as far as we are basically trying hard to ensure that the country is food secure we must also ensure that the country is feeding on food which is safe as far as consumer`s health is concerned.