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Kenya’s increasing agricultural innovations poised to boost food security

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Afred Ahuta, Domotele Technology Internet of Things consultant. He is one of the experts involved in smart technology development for poultry and dairy management. Photo: Laban Robert.

The growing number of innovations deployed in Kenya’s agriculture sector could hasten realization of food security and industrial transformation in the country.

According to policymakers, experts and investors who attended the just concluded conference on disruptive agricultural technology in Nairobi, robust innovations promise a green revolution in Kenya.

Hamadi Boga, principal secretary in the ministry of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, said Kenya has positioned itself to become a hub for innovations and technologies required to boost crop yield despite challenges linked to climate change, pests, diseases and declining soil health.

“Our farmers should have access to disruptive technologies required to boost access to information on weather as well as price of inputs like seeds and fertilizers,” Boga said.

“These technologies are at the heart of government efforts to transform small-holder farming through access to credit and markets,” he added.

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The April 5-6 high-level forum, sponsored by the World Bank, culminated in award of 100 million Kenya shillings (about 1 million U.S dollars) to 14 agritech start-ups that provide solutions to tackle bottlenecks hampering productivity at small-holder level.

Boga said investment in agritech start-ups is key to boosting access to technologies required to streamline agricultural value chains.

“Access to farmer-friendly technologies and innovations will have positive impact on food security, natural resources management and poverty eradication in rural areas,” he said.

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Kenya is home to 25 percent of agritech start-ups in sub-Saharan Africa, and the figure could rise further thanks to the presence of a robust innovation ecosystem.

Simeon Kacou Ehui, director of agriculture global practice at the World Bank, said multilateral lenders are keen to provide capital and expertise required to hasten technology-led transformation of food production systems in Kenya.

“We at the World Bank plan to promote large scale deployment of innovations, provide mentoring, coaching and business development services to boost agricultural productivity in Kenya and across Africa,” Simeon said.

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Participants at the disruptive agricultural technology conference said Kenya could leverage on macroeconomic stability, skilled workforce and high-speed internet connection to boost uptake of innovations to make farming smart, climate-resilient and profitable.

Olukemi Afun-Ogidan, principal agribusiness officer at the African Development Bank (AFDB), said Kenya should prioritize regulatory and policy incentives to attract investments in early-stage start-ups that are providing solutions to small-holder farmers grappling with low productivity, limited access to credit and volatile markets.

“Governments should incentivize local commercial banks to lend to start-ups with technical know-how to overhaul agricultural value chains,” Afun-Ogidan said.

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Kenyan agritech start-ups should focus on improving financial literacy and agronomic practices among small-holder farmers to enhance their competitiveness in global value chains, she said.

Shudhan Kohli, co-founder and chief executive officer of Grey Elephant Ventures, a pan-African venture capital firm, said Kenya should explore innovative financing models to spur growth of agritech start-ups that revolutionize farming.

“The government can mobilize funds from a range of sources like impact investors, banks and foundations to address financial constraints facing early-stage start-ups in the agricultural innovations space,” Kohli said.

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Kenya is keen to harness opportunities provided by emerging technologies like blockchain, internet of things, artificial intelligence and drones to disrupt farming and make it climate-resilient, youth-friendly and commercially viable.

Mary Nzomo, chair of county agriculture executives’ caucus, said adoption of disruptive technologies could unlock huge benefits to small-holder farmers amid worsening food security and revenue streams.

“There is a strong case for adoption of innovations that can reorganize farming, especially around the areas of agronomy, post-harvest storage, value addition and marketing,” Nzomo said.

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