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Q&A

 

Research for Productivity

Crispus Mugambi Njeru is a 26 year old research scientist. He is a graduate from Egerton University and has worked as a quality control assistant for the grain millers, Unga Limited. Currently, he is working for KARI where he is deployed at Kakamega Regional Research Centre, in Land and Water. He shares some of his experiences with the African Executive.

Q. What does KARI stand for?

A. KARI stands for Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. It was established and enacted, among other research institutes, in 1979 under CAP 250, section 12 of the Constitution of Kenya. The Act gave KARI the national mandate of carrying out research to support agricultural and forestry development. Later in 1985, Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) was established to take over the forestry related research programs.

Q. What is your vision and mission?

A. KARI’s vision is to be an institute of excellence in Agricultural research and technology transfer contributing to an improved quality of life for all citizens of Kenya

KARI is an agricultural institute which develops and disseminates appropriate agricultural technologies in collaboration with stakeholders. KARI further contributes to the sustainable improvement in the livelihood of Kenyan citizens by increasing agricultural productivity, post harvest value of crops and livestock products, while conserving the environment.

In pursuit of this mission, KARI proactively seeks to acquire and contribute knowledge and creative solutions that are participatory and client oriented; holistic and system oriented; gender sensitive and affordable to users. 

Q. Name some of your programs?

A. KARI manages and supports four main research programs, within which many individual research projects are undertaken. These programs include:

  • Crop Research, with focus on profitability of farming, food security, improved livelihood, and providing a basis for industrialization.
  • Livestock and range programs with focus on the contribution of livestock to the net farm incomes and national food security sufficiency through developing economically efficient, socially acceptable and ecologically sound production packages
  • Land and water management research, with focus on the improvement of soil and land productivity, optimum use of rainfall and other water resources and integrated natural resource management to ensure sustainable and productive use of natural resource base
  • Social-economic research, with focus on the methods of participatory research and technology transfer, monitoring and evaluation of technological packages with regard to adoption, impact and policy contribution on agricultural production. This component also assists in establishing on-farm commodity input/output price relationships (cost/benefit analysis) as well as resourcing marketing information in reference to priority agricultural commodities.

Within these programs are numerous cross cutting programs and services. Some of them are ATILI (Agricultural Technology and Information Response Initiative), ARF (Agricultural Research Fund), ARTF (Agricultural research Trust Fund) and the ARIS (Agricultural Research Investment and Services) among numerous others.

Q. Who are your target audiences?

A. All people living within the boundaries of the republic and the neighboring countries practicing agriculture for livelihood or commercial interests. Others include scientists in KARI and other research institutions whose discoveries are shared in scientific congresses and publications. We also target relevant stakeholders, development partners, NGOs, CBOs, and other agricultural service providers supporting and helping the realization our strategic objectives.

Q. How do you go about your work?

A. All scientists in KARI are required to write up project proposals in their respective areas of expertise. These proposals then pass through a rigorous process of critiquing and Fine-tuning (at the regional centre level) before their final review by the overall scientific review board composed of Assistant Directors of various sections. Funding is then availed, depending on availability and research priority considerations.

For the last eight months I have been working off station, disseminating green legume manure technology to farmers in Butere-Mumias District in Western province. Together with the Government (Ministry of Agriculture) extension team and the farmers in the locality, we set up Participatory Technology Demonstrations (PTDs) in farmers’ farms as a way of encouraging them to adopt the use of the green Legume seed.

Using an informal setting known as the Farmer Field Schools (FFS), I took the farmers through the green legume cropping cycle, explaining to them the benefits and maintenance practices at various stages along the cycle. 

Report writing also occupies a big portion of a researcher’s time. Quarterly, monthly and technical progress reports need to be drafted. Most of them need thorough analysis before being forwarded to their respective destinations. Time is also spent acquainting oneself with newly emerging publications.

Q. Is your effort appreciated?

A. Yes. I worked with one hundred and forty farmers, for eight months, meeting them twice weekly. Our relations were warm and cordial. They taught me a lot (especially about their culture and customs). Their appreciation will be judged by the results of the Impact Assessment scheduled for next year. The assessment will reveal how many farmers adopted the technology. If seventy percent will have adopted the technology, my effort will not have gone to waste.

I had jovial relations with other collaborating scientists, as I went around soliciting advice and seeking guidance on various issues.

Q. What do farmers expect from you?

A. Most farmers in the locality are impoverished and small scale. When they see a government officer they expect free gifts. It turns to be a monumental task convincing them that you want to work with them in their farms, which they regard as unproductive, hence a waste of time. With proper sensitizations, they are made to believe in themselves and ready to work. Few farmers drop off as more commitment is demanded.

Q. What challenges do you face?

A. The process of drafting a proposal and defending it is quite challenging, not to mention the whole exercise of drafting a full research proposal legible for funding.

Dealing with farmers is quite challenging. The social aspect of relating comes into play which requires one to be an excellent judge of character and situation. In addition, matters regarding the culture and norms of the people elicit a lot of emotion if misunderstood or ignored.

Poverty is a major phenomena occurring in the region. In as much as the farmers appreciate what they are taught, continuity is difficult. Most of them live far much below the poverty line and acquiring a decent meal is a problem. I hope that our interaction will bring change in their lives, no matter how small the change will be. 

Q. What is the future of the Agriculture sector?

A. The Agricultural sector represents the majority of Kenyan citizens as means of livelihood. Currently, most of the farming is geared towards provision of food to the country’s population of twenty three million.

However, emerging technologies such as tissue culture, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) and super fertilizers, are bound to change the face of farming. They may lead to higher productivity if adopted by the skeptic Kenyan farmer.

These new methods generate crops that grow faster, efficiently utilizing the minimum nutrients found in the soils. The seed from such technologies are however still very expensive and out of range for these resource poor farmers.

The western world has also been advocating for organic farming. This is basically farming using organic friendly sources of soil nutrients such as manure and green legume seeds. The majority of farmers in Kenya practice organic farming due to non-affordability of the inorganic fertilizers. With the current world concerns of environmental conservation, the future of farming in Kenya is likely to shift to purely organic farming.

The Agricultural research sector is expected to spearhead the agricultural growth in the country by addressing priority areas in food security and sustainability, and taking the necessary steps for establishing cause, developing viable affordable solutions and offering recommendations  for policy formulation.

Q. What is your personal view on GMO’s?

A. GMO technology is currently with us, and it’s here to stay. It represents several growth steps in agricultural production. In Kenya crops such as bananas, cassava, potatoes and horticultural produce have been genetically modified. These have been rigorously tested and vetted by the relevant inspection authorities in the country before certifying them safe for release to the consumer.

GMO’s require strict regulation to guarantee safety to the masses and protect the consumer from unscrupulous traders who engage in their trade with concealed identity. They also require a longer assessment on their direct as well as indirect impact on the environment.

Q. What is your ambition?

A. My key interests in agriculture lie in soil conservation and improvement strategies. Soil is the basis of all life forms. Soil conservation issues enjoyed prominence in the early years of the past political regime but the attention has fizzled out.

I am working towards being an expert in soil conservation and management by exploring ways and means of utilizing the available flora for soil conservation. I am currently working on a research proposal that will establish testing sites, for exploring adaptability and suitability of ten green legume varieties in western Kenya region.

I would also enjoy working with an international agricultural service provider like ICRAF (International Centre for Research in Agro-forestry), ICIPE (International Centre for Insect and pest Diseases), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) among others. Their scope of work is wider hence more exposure. 

Lastly, after acquiring the knowledge and experience, I would appreciate imparting this to students in universities and other colleges.

Q. What message would you like to convey to our readers?

A. Farming should be viewed as a profession in Kenya. A lot of cases document profound financial success of the farming enterprise, even with small land sizes. Poultry keeping, dairy farming, horticultural farming, are some of the farming activities that could take place at a small scale level. All that farmers require is initiative and careful planning in deciding the farming venture to engage in. KARI is open to all farmers in its various KARI Centers nationally, for consultation, advice and supply of improved planting materials, at a fee.

For the youth, you get what you deserve. One can become anything one wants, provided that he puts his mind into it. I’m chasing my ambition and I hope you are out there! Let’s work harder to make a better, habitable nation for our future generation.

Lastly, I wish to thank private communities and development partners for their support in continued collaborating with KARI and other agricultural service providers.

 



By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer


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