Efforts to reposition agriculture as an occupation of choice have gone a notch higher following the introduction of an annual award to fete successful farmers.
The Farmer Awards, launched by agriculture secretary, Dr Wilson Songa, will be developed as a joint venture between the public and private sector.
The first winners will be selected next year, and agriculture inputs supplier Elgon Kenya, the founder of the initiative, has contributed Ksh 5 million for the inaugural awards.
The awards come in the wake of last month’s fourth agriculture sector conference held at Safari Park Hotel, where president Kibaki challenged players in the industry to make farming attractive to investors and the youth to change the age old perception that it is only for the old, less educated and failures.
According the studies undertaken by among others, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), unless this perception changes, agriculture productivity will remain low, undermining efforts to increase incomes and food security.
Elgon Kenya director Bimal Kantaria, says the award seeks to create excitement in farming by rewarding those showing that it can be done, and by so doing make those who give the soil a wide berth to think again. “Everybody likes being recognized for putting in exceptional efforts, and we have farmers out there working hard to feed this nation and earn foreign exchange”, he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Dr Songa who said that given the big numbers of players and the sheer size of an industry that is the biggest contributor to GDP, and the biggest employer, the Farmer Awards will grow into the biggest among the various annual events that celebrate winners.
Mr Kantaria added that whereas there are national awards to recognize the best in many fields such as sports and businesses, there have not been concerted efforts to cheer farmers.
The awards also come amid renewed efforts at the international level to improve food security driven by dwindling production, ballooning populations, shrinking of land and climate change among other factors.
According to Agra President Jane Karuku, the G8 in its last meeting on food security emphasized that there cannot be security without enough to eat.
“Within this context, it becomes imperative to celebrate those who produce this food at the bottom of the chain, on whose backs the burden of feeding the world lies, mostly by default’, said Mr Kantaria.
The Ministry of Agriculture has been running a programme to reward farmers through the annual Presidential Awards, and the new initiative seeks to take the scheme to a whole new level, said Dr Songa.
“Through a the Farmers Award, we are charting a new path, which we hope to grow into the next most exciting event in the annual farming calendar, and we would wish to urge all stakeholders to take part in growing the scheme”, he said adding, “ farming as we know it has never been anyone’s choice career. It has been said time and again that for an agricultural economy like ours, the sector calls for a paradigm shift from the perception it has carried as a low-life occupation into a respectable business, and this award is expected to contribute to this. The world’s biggest economies reward their farmers, and we believe it is time we too did the same.”
Mr Kantaria added that for dignity to return to the soil, farmers need to be rewarded at national level for their hard work. “The primary objective of the scheme is to spur development and innovation in farming, right from the smallest to large-scale, as each has a role to play in the bigger picture,” he said.
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