By NELSON MAINA
January 20,2017,Nairobi.Four years ago, in the wake of growing demand for food from a ballooning population and growing concern by smallholder farmers over increasing threats to farm production, we at Elgon Kenya set out on a journey to walk with them in their farming pursuit and pat their backs for the hard work.
Our resolve was inspired by the remarkable efforts our smallholder farmers, who form the bulk of the country’s producers, put into feeding our nation. Yet they remain unsung even as other professions celebrate the best in their industries.
We launched the annual National Farmers Awards, a fete that rewards the best in the agriculture sector. Four years later, the scheme has grown in stature, influence and impact to levels that have overwhelmed us. Farmers from even the remotest parts of the country have taken part in the fete with judges of the competition who visited the farmers to grade them returning impressive stories of ordinary farmers surmounting numerous odds to keep the country fed. But it is the impact that the awards are having right down the farms across the country that is more motivating.
After the fanfare and glamour that comes with the award ceremony, the winners have gotten down to work, opening up their farms to fellow farmers for training and consultation. It has set in motion a farming revolution in ways we never imagined. A winner in last year’s awards has gone on to open his farm to students in high schools and colleges with a view to showing them that agriculture is a profitable profession.
Such are the tenets we seek to cultivate among our youth who we are counting on in sustaining food production pursuits. It is a vow Elgon Kenya has always made, to ensure that the environment through which food is produced is as enjoyable and exciting to our farmers as possible. It explains a host of innovations we have also rolled out which include the Elgon Kinga Mimea greenhouses customized to our farmers’ liking. It costs a fraction of what conventional greenhouses are priced and is guided by the fact that the essence of the greenhouse is in sheeting materials not in the metal structure.
This strategy is meant to reach as many smallholder farmers as possible, who are unable to afford the prohibitive cost of conventional greenhouses. While computing the price to charge for greenhouses, companies factor in the cost of materials like metal, sheeting materials among others. This contributes to the high price of greenhouses, a situation Elgon Kenya intends to correct.
Farmers look for construction materials, for example wood, which is cheaper than metal and then our team provides a design for the greenhouses and free agronomic support.
The National Farmers Awards has also taught us the power of numbers and what unity of purpose can achieve for such a crucial sector of our economy. In a classic example of the gains in public private partnership, we have managed to reach farmers across the country working with the able team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, receiving feedback and interacting with farmers which have offered interesting insights into what they undergo in food production. The county governments remain our formidable partners in the awards assisting us in reaching out to farmers from even the hinterlands and offering their services at the judging process.
The private sector players have also played a key role in our journey of returning dignity to the soil. We are grateful to our partners BASF, Du Pont, Arysta LifeScience Excel Crop Care Limited and our media partners Seeds of Gold and HortiNews for their unwavering commitment to this course.
The Farmers Awards fete has indeed created soil celebrities, but the bigger picture has and will always remain the need to congregate industry players in looking at innovative ways of producing food at the background of growing population and ultimately demand for food even as agricultural land dwindles. Kenya’s resolve to become food sufficient is already winning, with more farmers now farming from a point of information, and we are honoured to be driving this agenda.