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Only empowered farmers can fight food insecurity, poverty

The virulent debate on whether to embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or not, especially on social media and elite circles, is flying past the intended target user—the farmer.

This is typically Kenyan; we are packed with agenda like the old automatic gramophone that used to be loaded with vinyl discs to play on the music, but the stylus would get stuck in the disc groove and the result: disastrous, repetitive, off-cord gruntings.

And like the master’ of the gramophone who would dozes off and leave the instrument unattended, the farmer who is supposed to be at the heart of the discourse on the likely release of Bt maize and Bt cotton, is ignored. Is the farmer community sufficiently empowered—financially and knowledgeably—to make decisions to boost its productivity?

How about its rights in the new political dispensation and globalised world? The current edition of the African Business magazine captures the centrality of agriculture, a sector which feeds and sustains a huge segment of a ballooning population in the continent.

It states: “It is the heartbeat of the continent. And it is about power, politics and profit. Empower Africa’s farmers and boost their incomes, and you empower and boost Africa”. For many, this declaration is just another cliché and yet this is the path for a resource-rich continent, that ironically suffers traumatising spells of hunger and malnutrition, disease and all manner of strife, to follow.

Why? The farmers—wretched of the earth, literally!—especially the small-scale whose tools for trade are the hoe and panga, are despised, ignored and disempowered by government. And, in the biblical wisdom, they like a “stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone” to buttress Africa from its socio-economic and political woes!

To make the cornerstone, these farmers need improved seeds, irrigation and fertilisers to boost agricultural output to ensure food and economic security. To achieve this goal, the government should up its game and enact proper policies—such as adoption of an array of tools including new technology.

They should not only be organised into farmer groups to fight for their space/rights to effectively respond to their challenges, but a chain system of inducting future farmers at an early age. What, for instance, killed school clubs such Young Farmers, that helped many students appreciate agriculture?

How about the 4K clubs and Farmers Training Centres? Nobody knows, but their death exposed us to the unforgiving drought! This is why the government should listen to the concerns of groups such as the grain growers, who are threatened by aflatoxin.

It should not just recognise the issues, but seize them and juice out a real solution to energise this ‘heartbeat’ sector. I hope this government heeds the cries of farmers awaiting the release of Bt maize, a product by Kenyan scientists for the Kenyan farmers.

Science is such a wonder! And thanks to advances in genomics, molecular biology and computing power, it is now possible to develop more targeted medicines, manufacture high nutrition crops and address challenging environmental concerns.

Here is one such solution that could cure our never-ending Dandora dumpsite headache; according to GazetteLive magazine, a US firm has developed a plan to turn household waste into sugar— and why, of all the things that are currently heating up the country’s political temperature?

I hope there is is no conspiracy here to ‘kill’ our farmers! The waste-to-sugar project, being spearheaded by Technology by Fiberight Ltd, will convert rubbish that can’t be recycled into cellulose. How? By employing industrial biotechnology to separate “food matter, paper and card, biomass” and squeeze out of them sugar. Wow!

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