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Securing Food Security through Improved Investment in the Agricultural Extension System…

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Improved investments in a vibrant agricultural extension system and a well-supported service delivery system is what Kenya needs to enhance realization of the food security objective under the big four agenda. This requires improved budgetary allocation to the sector, which currently is at a low of between 6-7% in all counties in the country, for development activities. Increased programs and investments in agriculture should leverage on the crucial role of agricultural extension to these investments if tangible impact is to be realized in agricultural development.

The development of agriculture requires a multifaceted approach, moving beyond primarily food security as a measure of progress to consider services and systems more holistically. Both the county and the national governments have put in efforts to support the agricultural supply side through improved inputs and input delivery systems, agricultural lending and agribusiness skill training. The demand side has received support to improve access to markets, fair prices to producers, postharvest loss prevention and value addition.

According to Tegemeo, although farmers prefer public extension service system, the service providers prefer the well-endowed households, a trend that is common with private for-profit service providers. This is a greater risk considering that smallholder farmers produce about 60% of the required food in the country and thus they need this service. Tegemeo also reported that lack of extension information services to control armyworms and post-harvest losses could have costed Kenya an estimated 10 million bags of maize worth 32 billion last year.

Availability and use of agricultural information by farmers would have considerably reduced these loses and enhanced food availability and access. Globally, studies have shown that levels of returns to extension and research are as high as 80%. Therefore, strengthening and supporting agricultural extension at the county level would foster an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurialism and empower local farmers to solve their own problems.

A strong case therefore exists for greater support to extension which can provide the “last mile” support technologies, and improved practices need to reach and be adopted by potential users. A good extension system and services should disseminate and communicate information to farmers through messages that are clear, tailored to the learning needs of audiences and locally relevant. It also provides the backstopping to farmers to adopt and maintain use of beneficial technologies and improved practices. Adoption, therefore goes beyond simple awareness of a technology.

Other benefits of agricultural extension include contribution to social cohesion and governance through emphasis on solving community-level problems, participatory learning, group dynamics and advocacy to support broader efforts that promote democracy and decentralization. It is a key social service often provided to the rural poor as a “public good” and a commitment by the government to support rural development. Furthermore, through extension services the women and youth can access technologies and information with potentially life-changing opportunities, promoting equity in development.

However, a weak link in agricultural extension and low budgetary allocation to the sector has made it difficult to support the enhancement of technical competency among the staff; improve their communication and group facilitation skills as well as extension management. As such, the sector continues to stagnate in its growth path as other sectors shrink.

The national government allocation to agriculture has been low, though they have been steadily been rising from 1.2% in 2014/15 to 1.6% in 20115/16 to 1.8% in 2016/17 and finally 2.3% in 2017/18. The total allocation is still below the 10% that the government committed itself to allocate under the Malabo declaration. With an average of 6% of their budget to agriculture. This trend in financing has seen most county governments collectively funded 10% of the priorities identified in the CIDPs for the agricultural sector.

Farmers have persistently reported low interactions with agricultural extension services in the country. A study by Tegemeo Institute shows that a relatively 21% of farmers accessed agricultural information in Kenya in 2014. During the same period, the number of extension staff in public and private service was 5000 and 1000 respectively. At the time of devolution, the ratio of extension service providers to farmers was 1:1000 against the expected optimal ratio of 1:400 for better services.

Therefore, it is important to improve planning and budget allocation for the agricultural sector, especially at the county where majority of the functions are nested. Improving planning for the sector will result in projects that are realistic and respond to the localized needs of farmers in respective regions. This then forms a strong background for resource allocation.

The author, Dr Dennis Otieno is a Research Fellow at Tegemeo Institute of Egerton University




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