This reflective essay will focus on one of the major economic activities of Kenya, my homeland. Agriculture is the most important economic activity practiced by majority of Kenyans. It is regarded as the backbone of the Kenyan GDP and employs a majority of Kenyans, providing us with the sustenance (Future Agricultures Consortium, 2006). This makes Kenya an essentially an agrarian society with majority population being rural. However the world has become increasingly urbanized and moved from being agrarian to service and manufacturing oriented driven by numerous factors like increased population, urbanization and the free market economy (Satterthwaite, 2010). This has created severe pressure on Kenyan society and economy. With increase in population amount of arable land available for agriculture has decreased per person (jayne, 2012). Since each person continues farming the same land, as this is their only form of livelihood, it takes a severe toll on the fertility of the land.
The literacy rate of Kenya is not very high and that makes the population unaware of the latest technological and other advancements. In Kenya where I come from, agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy for as far as I can remember. It is an extremely important activity for Kenyans. However with the passing of time and with population increase, there are more sustainable concerns to be considered. In terms of the environment, most people in the country practice some sort of farming and almost all are subsistence farmers. They have very small pieces of land and these are becoming smaller. They keep farming the same piece of land but due to decreased soil fertility, yields are decreasing. Most farmers are illiterate therefore lack information on more effective farming practises, they can’t access financial services, unless they are part of a cooperative most can’t afford to transport their yield (crops or milk) to the market so they go to waste, and they have no control over cash crop world prices.
Although most of the concerns mentioned above are economic in nature therefore by extension social, I think the environmental part is the most important because even if we sort out the economic problems, the farms are not going to get any bigger. Due to overuse of the land, soil fertility is getting worse resulting in decreased yields. Farmers, like me are using more fertilizers which in turn pollute the environment. If we are taught better farming methods which are more environmental friendly this will mean less use of fertilizers, the soil will recycle itself and yields will increase. They can do this by practicing crop rotation so instead of planting the same crop, change the crop from time to time or practise mixed crop farming. This way yields will increase, farmers, like me won’t have to spend scarce resources on environmental polluting fertilizers and they can keep farming the same pieces of land for longer.
One of the major economic reasons threatening agriculture faced by me and other people in Kenya is globalization of market. It has made market access extremely competitive with protectionist tendencies of major developed economies like china and the USA (K., 2010). Low income economies like Kenya are forcing me remove trade barriers while countries like USA and china do not reciprocate. There is also enhanced demand for higher quality products and implementation of higher standards which are difficult to meet for countries like Kenya (Suharni, Chew, & Mohd, 2016). With increased global prices the agriculture sector became tied to the world food market. Hence any fluctuation affects price the farmers like me and others are able to sell their produce for. Hence if the world price drop, this affects the profitability and hence it becomes difficult to sustain (Proscovia & Marrit, 2019). This causes a lot of debt related issues and causes us to face severe economic crisis. Enhanced globalization has also caused a distinct change in the institutional environment for us.
The multilateral institutes like United Nations, world trade organization, World Bank, international monetary fund have disproportionate influence on the agricultural sectors of developing countries like Kenya. These institutions are dominated by countries like china, USA and other developed countries. This makes it very difficult to protect the interests of Kenyan farmers, like me and others. Access to credit and finance is difficult due to the credit rating system that is dominated by a bias towards western society. This makes it difficult for farmers like me to access to credit. So in order to purchase raw materials like seeds they may be forced to seek refuge to nontraditional financial institutions like money lenders. This drives up production cost, which affects the economic health of agricultural sector in Kenya (Intrnational growth centre, 2012).
Inadequate investment in infrastructure is another major challenge that affects agriculture in Kenya. The transportation sector has not been properly developed which prevents market access and also leads to degradation and rotting of farm produce. This drives up production cost and leads to reduced earning of an agricultural sector that is already under stress ( Action Contre la Faim, 2014). Inadequate national spending on the agricultural sector itself is another major issue that threatens our agricultural sustainability. Less than ten percent of national budget is approximately allocated for agriculture every year. This is surprising in our country that is overwhelmingly rural and agrarian. Agricultural food crop pass through several processes that before they are purchased by consumers. There is a possibility of loss at each of those steps. There is approximately fifteen percent loss in the field itself, thirteen to twenty percent during processing, fifteen to twenty five percent loss during storage occurs. The cause of food loss may be for variety of reasons like use of degraded equipment as finance was not available, contamination, invasion by rodents and birds. Post-harvest loss makes the economic situation dire for me and the farmers as low quality food has very low market acceptability. As mentioned previously, this creates a debilitating barrier as standard is a major issue due to globalization. These are the factors which have economic foundation that affects sustainability of us, the Kenyan farmers.
As mentioned in the introduction section majority of farmers, like me and others are small scale in nature. However agriculture is dualistic in nature. The majority of farmers like me and others, are small scale with very few large scale farmers. Subsistence farmers, like me and farmers who are pastoralists and small scale commercial farmers represent the small scale farmer demographic .This demographic is responsible for seventy five percent agricultural and seventy percent of marketed agricultural produce. Women constitute seventy five percent of small scale farmers and two thirds of women participate in subsistence farming (Eliada, Emily, Rachel, & Shirley, 2014). As it has been reported these demographics are extremely marginalized and vulnerable with little to no social safety net. Gender violence is widespread and the concept of equality and gender justice is virtually nonexistent. Hence a majority of farm workers have no security to life and liberty (United Nations, 2014). A social protection paradigm is necessary for any industrial sector to thrive. This represents an extremely dire situation of the major food producing demographic and a social disaster that will be difficult to manage is waiting to happen.
The effect is already visible in the declining food security scenario as food producers are losing the economic battle against and an adverse social safety and security that makes filled with dread. It has been reported that almost fifty percent of us, the Kenyans fall well below the food poverty line. Ten percent of children with age below five are underweight. And this has higher incidences of malnutrition and children mortality occurs in rural Kenya where the livelihood is overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture. Food security and challenges related to nutrition are some of the parameters that determine poverty and distress in the agricultural sectors. This social challenge is exacerbated due to the breakdown of traditional social and ecological systems (United Nations, 2018). This is caused by rise of population that is putting pressure on the social system which in turn affects livelihood and agricultural output.
Lack of literacy and government educational progress directed toward social improvement is another major issue affecting agriculture. The access to technology and information is limited that prevent us from implementing latest techniques in farming. This is making us depending on outdated farming techniques that are depleting the quality of their produce. This poor quality produce will never pass the high standard needed to be globally competitive in a globalized economy and market. The demographic advantage, which is the availability of young and active population, is being lost to illiteracy. If not addressed with alacrity I am afraid we will reach a point of no return that will lead to destruction of economy and society of Kenya.
Environmental degradation has played havoc with the agricultural sector of Kenya. Despite an overwhelming majority of population involved in agricultural activity, approximately twenty percent of the land that we possess is arable that can be cultivated (Pretty, Toulmin, & Williams, 2011). The arable land is also under rain-fed. The effect on climate change may be devastating for the agricultural sector of Kenya. The agriculture sector is extremely vulnerable to the increasing temperature, change in rainfall pattern, and extreme weather events (KEPSA, 2014). Climate change poses an extreme danger for Kenyan agriculture. Temperature change has already adversely affected crop potential. An instance of this is the frost formation affecting adversely the tea estates. The livestock sector is extremely climate sensitive and, climate change has caused a frighteningly high number of death and disease in live stocks. Due to climate change, fewer days are available for crop growth (Raza, 2019). Gradual change in climate and extreme weather events like flood and excessive drought reduces number of productive cropping days. This enhances the probability of crop failure. The increased number of draughts has started to cause water shortage in households, and also for agriculture and livestock utilization.
Unpredictable climate pattern also adversely affects the planning for agricultural activities. The unpredictable change in rain pattern, the long and short rains disrupt the planning and schedule of planting and harvest times. Livestock based activity is reduced due to drought in arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. Due to climate change there is increased floods in the agricultural land that already puts pressure on the fragile agricultural ecosystem. Change in weather pattern leads to loss of biodiversity and creates new pest attacks that destroys our crops and is a major reason for destruction of agriculture in Kenya. New kinds of diseases to agricultural plants, and weeds are also a major cause for concern. The climate change is also reducing the availability of arable land due to draught. Already Kenya has low arable land despite being an overwhelmingly agricultural society. Further reduction in arable land will be devastating. There is also depletion of nutrient content due to climate change and also inefficient farming practices like repeated planting same crops over and over without any crop rotation.
The solutions to these issues are not easy to implement and they have global ramifications. The free market economy has to be more accommodative of weaker economies like Kenya. Presently it is dominated by wealthier nations and developed economies. This needs to change. It needs to be accepted and understood that a destruction of society affects everybody. No one will be immune from its effects in a connected world. There needs to be reforms in the multilateral institutions like United Nations to give voice to Africa which does not exist as of now. Reform to United Nations is priority. Lending agencies like World Bank and international monetary fund needs to implement program for easy access to credit and finance to these troubled economies. Standards should not be uniformly implemented and the bar should not be set at the same height for advanced countries and for weaker economies. The playing field has to be leveled, and for that the economies like Kenya need to survive and prosper.
The social security of vulnerable populations needs to be enhanced and gender justice implemented by the Kenyan government with immediate effect. Adequate infrastructure development needs to be implemented both in education and transport that will bring dividends in demography and agriculture. Environment needs to be protected by removing negative politics in multilateral institutions like United Nations. Kyoto protocol needs to be ratified and green and sustainable solutions implemented. The emission and carbon footprint has to be reduced. For agriculture sector, training needs to be imparted to us, the farmers about latest farming technologies and best practices.
The situation is difficult in the agriculture sector of my homeland Kenya. However there is cause for hope, and if the solutions suggested are implemented, there may be a chance for revival and improved development index.
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