By BOB KOIGI
January 20, 2017, Nairobi. From a Laikipia farm that has become the attraction of many for its unique agrotourism model, to a physically disabled farmer in Kisumu county who has built a name and empire for transforming his land into a green lush of horticulture from his wheelchair, this year’s national farmers awards brought together hundreds of the sector’s industry players in crowning men and women pushing the envelope to ensure that the country is fed.
Now in its fourth edition, the farmers award, a partnership between agro input powerhouse Elgon Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, has grown in numbers interest, players involved and in status since inception to encompass farmers in all the 47 counties and has positioned itself as the ultimate event in the farmers calendar. In the pioneer edition 8,000 entries were received, growing to 16,000 in 2014 and ultimately to over 30,000 in 2015. This year the request for participation was overwhelming.
Putting aside their tools of trade, farmers congregated at the Laico Regency Hotel in Nairobi for a red carpet ceremony graced by the Agriculture cabinet secretary Hon. Willy Bett. 23 winners were honoured in various categories among them women in agriculture, small scale farms gearing to commercialization and youth.
The patron of the awards the director of Elgon Kenya Bimal Kantaria reminisced the journey so far, lauding the partnership of both the private sector and the government in making the fete a success. “When we first launched this initiative four years ago, we were inspired by the need to reward a constituency that has toiled for years on end but still remained unsung. We keep talking about food security and the need to eliminate hunger in all its form in our country, but we never appreciate the faces behind making this happen. It is such an honour to see this award having metamorphosed into a force to reckon with in the sector,” said Mr. Kantaria.
His sentiments were echoed by Hon. Bett who lauded the efforts of the scheme in transforming the sector and enticing more youth into what has traditionally been described as a poor man’s land. “The expectation is that the National Farmers Award Scheme will remain an exciting and transformative event in the annual agriculture, livestock and aquaculture calendar. In this respect, I urge all the stakeholders to join us in making this competition based initiative a big motivation to our farmers and all the other actors in the sector who deserve recognition for their commendable efforts towards making this country food secure and economically prosperous,” the Minister said.
And when each speaker stood to give his speech, the message of unity of purpose in food production reverberated across the hall amid cheers and ululations of the guests who couldn’t hide their excitement at being part of agriculture’s crème de la crème. “The response we have received this year has been tremendous and overwhelming. Participants are telling us how excited they are to learn from previous winners and indeed it is so heartwarming to listen to stories of those mentored by these previous winners now emerging winners in this year. It is what we always envisioned. An arrangement where we transfer knowledge among farmers and inspire each other. That is the sure bet in spurring crop production and roping in more players into agriculture,” Mr.Kantaria.
The pride of the winners and their families was exemplified in the lyrics of a song conducted by the master of ceremony Mr. Sammy Mbau. “If you are a farmer and you know it clap your hand,” Mr.Mbau led guests who responded in chorus before breaking into a cheerful jig. And when the winners were called one by one to the stage amid pomp, colour, and ululations while shaking hands with the guests of honour, pride, resilience and excitement replaced words. “I was born to do this. Nothing is as beautiful as being rewarded for doing what you love. But I know with this win comes more responsibility. That of hundreds of young people looking up to me back at home for inspiration and guidance.
This, I feel is the best way to tap more into farming especially the young people,” said Jonah Sigei a winner in the youth in agriculture category from Nandi County. Michael Ochieng Laro, a winner in the physically challenged persons category agreed. “To be bestowed with the honour of being the best farmer in the country is no mean feat. It is especially very special to me because I will now become the ambassador of disability is not inability tagline. This award is not just mine. It is the inspiration I bring to thousands like me who feel like giving up. I am so grateful to the organizers for recognizing us in the food production agenda,” said Mr. Ochieng.
And as the curtains came down on the Kenyan farmers Oscars, industry players while taking pride in having a fete that celebrates their own, also pondered how they would intensify the campaign of bringing even more Kenyans into the food production calling. “I urge our CECs in the winning and participating Counties to use the winners as models to showcase the potential of transforming our agriculture from subsistence practices to commercially and market-oriented farming that is driven by agribusiness,” Hon. Betty said.