Food security remains a key global agenda. In Africa, it is one of the greatest challenges as stifled availability and access to safe and nutritious food persist. Here in our nation Kenya, agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. In spite of this, our food systems face a myriad of challenges thus putting food security among the top national development agenda priorities. This is notably so and encouraging that food security is currently part of the governments big four agenda.

Some of the challenges mainly experienced in the production of adequate food for citizens include extreme weather conditions coupled with rapid population growth. These have exacerbated the food insecurity status thereby increasing the level of malnutrition and hunger. However, persistent food insecurity is largely attributed to low agricultural productivity hence indicating without a doubt that adequate measures need to be taken to address it. While it is agreeable that agricultural innovations are desirable to stimulate crop productivity, research shows that maize productivity in Kenya has stagnated overtime while output has been declining. This is against the ever increasing demand for the commodity thus transforming the nation into a net maize importer despite past efforts to promote adoption of modern farming technology.

Nonetheless, despite this, potential to boost agricultural productivity in Kenya exists. To achieve this however, farmers may have to rely more on technology to boost productivity. This can for instance be achieved by encouraging bundling of technologies, especially, complementary innovations such as improved seed and fertilizer. In a recent study conducted by Tegemeo Institute, seeking to establish the link between various indicators of food security and adoption of technology bundle(s), that have high probability of increasing households’ food availability and access; it was established that bundling of technologies has the greatest gains on productivity. A three-year panel data of 1800 maize growing households from the mid-altitude regions of Central and Western Kenya, was used in the study. Mr. Eric Mukundi a Research Associate at Tegemeo Institute notes that further findings from the survey indicate that adoption of improved seed is positive and highly correlated with adoption of improved inorganic fertilizer thus suggesting that farmers consider the two technologies as complements most likely because improved varieties tend to be more responsive to fertilizer application unlike the local varieties.

Use of inorganic fertilizer was also noted to be instrumental in boosting both productivity and household food security even without improved seed. Highest (productivity and household food security) gains were however observed with the use of both improved seed and fertilizer thus indicating a complementarity of technology. Adoption rates for improved maize bundles were on average noted to be relatively high yet did not to translate to output gains, further notes Mr. Mukundi. This is a worrying trend given that there are over 200 varieties of improved maize seeds in the Kenyan market currently. According to Mr. Mukundi, one of the notable reasons for this outcome could be pointed to the fact that fertilizer use is still low, besides farmers experiencing possible financial constraints and inadequate extension knowledge on the optimal bundles to use.

The Tegemeo study implores the need for policies that will stimulate development and adoption of practical complementary technologies to increase crop productivity in a sustainable manner. It recommends that providing information to farmers, providing access to finances especially for female households can improve use of complementary technologies, and consequently improve the food output. In addition, formation of strong partnerships is required to effectively spur the production of the right technology and consequent awareness creation of its existence and proper use to farmers. The national and county governments can no doubt play a crucial role in ensuring that such partnerships are established and fostered. Besides with the devolved system of governance whereby agriculture is a devolved function, county governments can put aside funds to facilitate activities such as farmer education and fostering of both domestic and international public-private sector partnerships among others.

Given that maize is an important food crop in the country that also constitutes over 70% of cultivated land, improving its productivity will no doubt ameliorate the nation’s food security concerns. There is need for the programs that seek to enhance productivity to be anchored on evidence based (data) foundations and strategies to ensure resources are utilized efficiently towards achievement of the nation’s top goals of improving food security. More can be accessed here ...

Report by Judy Kimani

Tegemeo's Communication and Outreach Officer