There is one place in Kenya where any Japanese visitor will immediately feel at home. This is because the rural scenery of endless rice fields found there is very much like what you find in various scenic parts of rural Japan.
The place is Mwea: Kenya’s biggest rice-growing region.
But there is more than beautiful rural scenery to Mwea. There is a significant economic dimension to it. The rice fields of Mwea are a symbol of Kenya-Japan collaboration in agriculture. And they represent a step towards Kenya achieving food security.
Kenya has a population of about 49 million people. And with a growth rate of 2.6 per cent, the population is expected to be 96 million in 2050. The economic growth rate of Kenya is 5 per cent.
Food security is of course one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four” policy priorities.
And when it comes to agriculture, there is a long history of cooperation between Kenya and Japan.
First, there is the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, which was the culmination of a long-lasting Kenya-Japan joint project which has been ongoing for over 40 years. It is an example of a highly successful human resource development project, providing Kenya with the local professional expertise needed to help create a modern agriculture sector.
Then of course the Mwea Irrigation development project is the cornerstone of our joint efforts to help Kenya obtain the best and the latest in rice-growing technology from Japan.
Right now, 70 per cent of rice production in Kenya is produced in Mwea.
But I should also mention the Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment & Promotion (SHEP) approach which has been developed in Kenya through technical cooperation project by Japan ODA.
It was initiated back in 2006 and has since then proved very effective in increasing farmers’ income. SHEP is an approach which promotes the development of “Market-Oriented Agriculture” and converts farmers’ mindset from “grow and sell” to the more lucrative approach of “grow to sell”.
The first meeting of the Kenya-Japan Agricultural Cooperation Dialogue was held in Kenya in February 2016, and both countries discussed ways and means to strengthen cooperation.
Later that year, in August 2016, Kenya was the host country when for the first time, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) was held on the African continent.
One of the key outcomes of this conference was an emphasis on “promoting inclusive and sustainable livelihoods” as the means to supporting social stability in Africa.
This is the background against which our Kenya-Japan agriculture dialogue takes place this year.
This dialogue aims at promoting collaboration between various Kenyan organisations and Japanese companies, in order to utilise their latest technology and expertise.
Given Kenya’s high population growth rate and rapid economic growth, Japanese companies are very keen to be involved in the agriculture sector because of the rapid expansion of agriculture and food production industries in Kenya.
And not all of these are giant corporates of the kind which Japan has so many, and which are famous iconic global brands.
I could mention that the company which at present is a small operation started by a young Japanese entrepreneur seeks to improve farm income among fruit growers by processing fruits and thus adding value.
Then there is another company which is likewise, a start-up innovation created by a young Japanese entrepreneur working in Kenya. The company focuses on improving the supply chain from small-scale farmers to local vendors, through a tech platform.
All these represent different ways in which Japanese businesses are working to help improve farm-based incomes in Kenya, thus creating rural prosperity and food security.
In the present dialogue, we are looking ahead to Ticad VII which will be held in Japan next year. We would like through this cooperation dialogue, to come up with tangible outcomes which can be presented at Ticad VII.
Through this process, we would like to contribute to the target of the Ticad VI Nairobi Declaration which emphasised the promoting of structural economic transformation through economic diversification and industrialisation.
Kenya and Japan have had a long-lasting friendship and close collaboration.
This dialogue will strengthen our continued collaboration in agriculture and food production industry, in the joint effort to ensure Kenya’s food security.
—The writer is the Japanese ambassador to Kenya