High-tech: The best solution to take farming to the next level

Monday May 6 2013

A farmer, Mr Gerald Nkya (left), works

A farmer, Mr Gerald Nkya (left), works alongside his colleague, Mr James Moshiro, on a cabbage farm in one of the rural districts of Tanzania. Poor technology has been a major stumbling block to farmers working hard to produce food and cash crops in a nation, whose population mainly depends on agriculture. PHOTO | ROSEMARY MIRONDO 

By Rosemary Mirondo The Citizen Correspondent

Dar es Salaam. African countries have been advised to use modern technology in Agriculture in order to attain Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially MDG1 on eradicating poverty and hunger.

The application of the best modern agricultural technologies can make a significant contribution to improving food security in the continent.

However, African agriculture is underdeveloped and is not being used adequately to expand human capabilities and create opportunities for relief of poverty. In comparison with other regions in the world, agricultural growth has been slow in Africa.

National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) chief executive officer, Mr Shaukat Abdulrazak, says that the only way to produce from depleted sources is by embracing innovation.

“Africa needs to invest at least one per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for it not to be an innovator but a consumer of technology,” he says.

According to him, Agriculture is the foundation of Africa’s social, political and economic systems because it provides employment to 65 per cent of the continent’s population and accounts for at least 30 per cent of the GDP.

Low agricultural productivity is associated with a wide range of factors, including over reliance on conventional technologies, low investments in education, infrastructure, research and development.

“If we are afraid of GM (genetically modified organisms) technology, we should go into fibre feed and food,” he advises.

For his part, chairman of the Kenya National Academy of Science (KNAS), Prof Raphael Munavu, says that the MDG1 aims to reduce hunger by 50 per cent by 2015.

He says that poverty is interlinked with challenges of lack of food and majority of hungry people are food producers, especially small scale farmers.

He says that scientists have a major role to play in ensuring food availability and food security.

“A recent study shows that 165 million children below the age of five years were underweight due to lack of food availability and food security,” he says.

Mr Munavu explains that the recent ban on GM foods in Kenya highlights challenges in the country because it clearly points out that there is no clear policy yet.

He says that scientists have remained in labs and do not engage the public, thereby allowing lobbyists to speak and criticise the modern technology at the top of their voices.

Meanwhile, Dr Hennie Groenewald, the executive manager of biosafety based in South Africa says that the sector contributes to MDG1 through agriculture led economic growth and improved nutrition.

“Increased agricultural production and food security will come through technological innovations together with education and not from mere provision of traditional farm inputs,” he says.

He says that women constitute at least 50 per cent of the labor force in African agriculture; therefore improvements in the agricultural productivity will promote gender equality and empower women.

According to him, Africa is intensely confronted by irregularities in food insecurity in an era of rapid technological advances in agriculture.

“While the rest of the developing world is purposely engaged in the development and application of modern agricultural biotechnologies, such as GMO Africa is held back,” he says.

Africa is still held back and continually preoccupied with the old debate on the role and safety of technology in food production and sustainable development.

“Africa cannot apply technology in a policy vacuum, technology requires policymakers and relevant frameworks,” he says. He calls on scientists to give credible advice to the government in order to make appropriate science policies.

In another development, the Agricultural Non-State Actors Forum (Ansaf) executive secretary, Mr Audax Rukonge, says the agricultural sector commands a big share in the Tanzanian economy.

Agriculture is the second largest contributor to national GDP after the service sector. “Although its contribution to GDP has been dropping over the last decade, in the recent past it has stabilized to an estimated 26.8 per cent as of 2012,” he says.

The sector employs over 75 per cent of the Tanzanian labor force and on average it contributes 95per cent of national food requirement.

Due to its backward and forward linkages, agriculture is one of the sectors that involve a range of actors who are the main target of both national and international level initiatives in addressing poverty.

They are smallholder farmers, who are consistently challenged by poverty and food insecurity.

He says that in the recent past, Tanzania has consistently developed policies and strategies as well as resolves (Kilimo Kwanza) to ensure all efforts are targeted towards attaining local and international commitments.

“Despite efforts and increased budget allocation to agriculture from Sh52 billion in 2001/02 to over Sh926 billion by 2010/11, on average the sector grows at 4.3 per cent, poverty and food security remain major problems among Tanzanian rural dwellers,” he says.

Advertisement