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Red flag raised on ageing scientists

More than 85 per cent of agricultural researchers in the country are set to retire within 10 years, a situation industry players say might compromise research in the country.

A research conference in Nairobi heard that the majority of researchers in the agriculture sector with Masters and PhD degrees are above 50 years of age, signalliing hard times for the government to support agriculture  through research.

Despite the advancing age of experts, research institutes have been grappling with mass exodus of scientists to multinational organisations and private universities. 

The government suspended hiring of researchers more than a decade ago, thus agricultural research is suffering from low-budgetary allocation. Following the creation of the State Department of Agricultural Research in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, the  government allocated Sh5.56 billion in 2018/19 financial year to provide the necessary leadership in research.

An Agricultural Research and Development Indicators Fast Sheet Update Report released last week during the conference reveals that the country has a pool of 1,158 researchers compared to 3,025 and 2,975 researchers in Ethiopia and Nigeria respectively. The report was released by Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) that is facilitated by the International Food Policy Research Institute of Washington.

Nienke Beintema, the head of ASTI, said large share of Masters of Science and PhD researchers in most agricultural research agencies in Kenya are in their 50s and 60s. “The situation is particularly serious at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (Karlo). Two-thirds of the PhD-qualified researchers and about half of Bachelor of Science and a Masters of Science (MSc)-qualified researchers were more than 50 years old as of 2016,” she said. 

“The government research institutes need solid hiring, training, and mentorship plans, backed by the government. Exempting Karlo from the  civil service hiring freeze would also enable pressing human resource gaps to be filled,” Beintema added.

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