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The importance of crop production

Heidi Alexander MP recently travelled to Kenya to see firsthand the problems there. This is her account of the experience.

Korogocho is one of Nairobi’s growing slums and home to nearly 300,000 people. Dirt tracks are edged by foul-smelling gullies. Families live heaped upon one another in small, dark dwellings. Wide-eyed kids emerged to crowd around us, five members of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food Security, as we started our week-long tour in Kenya.

Improving productivity

This tour would take us from the slums of Nairobi to densely populated western highlands around Kisumu and through the semi-arid lands of Mwingi Province. We met small-scale farmers desperate to improve the productivity of their land and pastoralists keen to experiment with new breeds of dairy goat. We spoke to NGO workers who told us about the need to invest in agricultural development to reduce demand for food aid.

Farming challenges

In Korogocho, we met David – a father of three who had ended up in the slums with his wife and children having been unable to make a living in the countryside. Family breakdown, rural isolation and extreme poverty forced him to the city in search of a better life. As we learnt more about the challenges of farming in Kenya, David's story became easier to understand.

The sad reality is that many farmers here cannot survive on what their land is currently producing. Whilst some would argue that small plot sizes are the problem (poor economies of scale), many of the successful projects we visited suggested this need not be the case.

Knowledge

The provision of basic information to farmers about soil conservation, irrigation, planting methods and food storage is vital. Getting farmers the best possible seeds and fertilizers is also essential.

Life and death matter

Farm Inputs Promotions founder Paul Seward and his local advisor, Dorcas, led a group of 100 farmers around fields where new seed varieties were being grown. Crops such as sweet potato and cassava are being grown with incredible results. I have never seen a group of people more thirsty for knowledge than those farmers. As someone pointed out to me though, it’s a matter of life and death.

Combating hunger

My week in Kenya has had a profound impact upon me. We mustn’t forget the role of agriculture in combating global hunger and malnutrition.

There is enough food in our world to go round but the importance of crop and livestock production in the developing world mustn’t be overlooked. For the sake of the small-holder farmer or the Nairobi slum-dweller, we should all remind ourselves that this really is a matter of life and death.