The modern world takes food production for granted. Traditionally, the struggle to find or produce enough food to eat was the focus for living and took up most of parent’s time.
It is estimated that 2 billion of the world’s 7.3 billion people still do not get enough food to eat. Famine still stalks Africa; millions ofAfricans still rely on food handouts and many suffers from malnutrition. It has been predicted that to sustain the increasing population and satisfy the new demands, a staggering 70% more food will need to be produced.
Boniface Njenga an agronomist working with Amiran is offering agronomical solutions to farmers in Nyahururu and the entire Central Kenya. He has been in the agricultural field for over 4 years and shares with Hortfresh Journal about solutions to increase food production and what it entails to be a good agronomist.
What motivated you to become an agronomist and why agronomy?
Since childhood I have always had the passion of being a farmer; one time while in school my class teacher asked us what careers we wanted to pursue and I said a prominent farmer or anything linked to farming to the amusement of many in the class. All my classmates’ responses were to work in an office set up.
Agronomy is a good source of employment for sure and I really love it. Visiting farmers, listening to them, offering them solutions and seeing them excel is very encouraging.
What are some of the qualities that make a good agronomist?
Should be someone who is very knowledgeable on diseases, fertilizers, nutrition, pests, among others. An agronomist should give out the best ways of controlling pests and diseases with very minimal cost and effectively.
To be a successful agronomist, you should be focused on developing and promoting better farming practices. A top notch agronomist should be self-motivated, detail oriented, and analytical with excellent listening, communication, and problem solving skills.
Where do you see the future of agronomists, will technology and innovations replace your work?
Inspite of modern technologies and innovations, agronomist are very vital for technology implementation to the farmers since many of them are not even aware of the new and existing technologies. Also, some projects within societal settings requires participatory appraisals or approach that can only be enhanced by agronomist
What are some of the new technologies you are advocating farmers to embrace?
Farming is increasingly becoming technical and high tech making farming more accurate, decreasing wastage, boosting productivity and thus raising the profit margins. Farmers who are not in modern farming should embrace mechanization and adopt greenhouse farming.
Deployment of mobile phones and web technologies that give advice, weather forecasts, market information and financial tips to farmers is now the trend. Use of SMS and web tools to offer market information and farm record management services is now the order of the day.
At Amiran for instance, we have a new technology called E-Max. It is a technology that allows all components of fertilizersto be placed at the same time.The technology is triggered by the plant to release the nutrients that are deficient to the plant. In crop production we have three stages of a plant; starter, vegetative, and the flowering stage. At the starter stage the demand for nutrients for the plant is low and increases more while the plant grows. The technology at the starter stage produces nutrients slowly and gradually increases towards the flowering stage.
What are some of the solutions to food insecurities in Kenya, that you are advocating to farmers?
It is necessary to support the farming sector because of the many people who depend on it as the main source of income, and also the need to produce more food. To protect farmers, the government should compensate farmers for losses; for instance, due to locust destruction or when there is crop failure. After floods in the US for example, their government steps in and compensate farmers for losses.
The government should also support efforts to modernize farming practices, should improve farmers’ link to markets and inputs like quality seeds and fertilizers. There is also need of an active effort to make farming and agriculture more attractive to young people. This could involve leasing unused land to young people.
While interacting with farmers on daily basis, what are some of the challenges they face?
Lack of access to appropriate farm inputs, such as; quality seeds, manure, fertilizers, pest control products, among others is the main challenge. Farm input prices in Kenya are among the highest in the World.
Diseases and pests is another challenge farmer’s grapple with, many farmers lack knowledge on controlling them. The vagaries brought about by the climate change has made it difficult for farmers to project.
Soil health is critical issue and many farmers don’t know about it. They need to consider carrying out soil tests to establish nutrients lacking in their soils.
Limited number of extension officers in most areas of the country is another problem. In addition; lack of access to better markets, poor rural roads, low farm produce prices due to middle men influence among others are also a problem.
What is your comment about foods?
Farmers need to meet rising demand for more food of higher quality. In recent years, there has been a shift in focus from concern about ‘enough food’ to ‘good food’. Society has rising expectations to farmers in reducing their impact on the environment, to increase the nutritional content of crops and to further minimize chemical residues in crops.