I recently travelled to University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, the highest rank University in the German Speaking Europe. I had been offered a position of visiting Professor especially in teaching courses on Strategy with regards to doing business in Africa. There was a session I had to deliver on high potential investment sectors in Africa. Since not only the data is important but also perspective, I was desperate for in-depth perspectives about Africa especially those that would keep me at per with currently affairs. Finally one of my colleagues checked into the plane with several copies of the Economist Magazine. I immediately asked for 10 copies and within no time was busy reading desperate for inspiration to be able to be valuable to my students. The magazine proved insightful and the lecture went very well and the students were impressed. However, as we took our return flight, I started perusing through my notes since I felt that the reflections we heard with the students were so deep that they touched me as an African, Kenyan scholar. I thought more towards the agribusiness sector since we have agribusiness department at Strathmore Business School and I am also a director at Property Reality Company (PRC) that has Kilimo Biashara, an agribusiness product. There were so many statistics that were running in my mind, for instance, the fact that Africa has 60% of the potential arable land coupled with very low crop productivity leading to poverty, starvation among others. What will Africa, lets come home, Kenya, do to improve livelihoods?
According to the Economist, since 1960s, Africa and Kenya for that matter still lags behind with regards to crop productivity in comparison to gains made in Latin America and Asia. That means that Kenya has required extra food to feed the growing Kenyan population, which was 8.9 million at independence (1963) and now is 45 Million. However, agricultural produce has come largely from cultivating more land rather increasing the productivity of Kenyan land since crop yields haven’t improved. This lack of improvement in productivity can be attributed to archaic farming methods. Unfortunately, instead of improving productivity, with our poor farming methods we are depleting nutrients from these soils. The poor farming methods come from the fact that almost all-arable land in Kenya lacks irrigation. Will we then feed Africa’s population given that it’s meant to double by 2050? It means we shall cut more trees and clear more land in order to feed ourselves. That means there will be more global warming. What is then the impact of global warming?
The world is already 1 degree warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. As it heats up further, weather cycles are set to speed up, leaving wet parts of the world wetter and dry parts drier. At either side of the scale, extreme weather events will probably increase. By 2050, even if temperatures rise is successfully limited to 2 degrees, crop yields could slump by 20%. The costs of climate change already come each year to 1.5% of the continent’s GDP, according to European commission and adapting to it will cost 3% each year until 2030. That means, there is a need for less clearing of our forests but increased agricultural efficiency. Why haven’t we been able to improve our productivity in Africa?
According to the UN’s food and Agriculture Organization, 124kg of artificial fertilizer is used worldwide per hectare of farmland on average each year, while in Africa the amount used is just 15kg. Africa’s’ problem here is that making fertilizer accessible since crooked officials pocket subsidies for it. Moreover, high transportation costs along port holed roads also help make fertilizer up to 50% more expensive in Tanzania, around 40% in Kenya and 80% more expensive in Mali than in Thailand, according to Amit Roy, formerly of international Fertilizer Development Centre, an American charity which supports better farming practices. What is the likely impact of boosting food productivity on global warming?
Boosting the productivity of Africa’s lands is not only necessary for feeding a larger growing population, but also a possible means of reducing emissions. Currently vast areas are cleared for new fields because too little grows in existing ones. But reducing deforestation in Africa by just a tenth would be equivalent to cutting a year’s worth of Brazil’s emissions, says Mostafa Terrab, head of OCP Group, a huge Moroccan phosphate firm. Moreover, well-nourished soils are better at absorbing carbon dioxide rather than allowing it to enter the atmosphere. But the continent’s overgrazed; over-used soil currently means reduction in carbon emission is a lost opportunity. How does PRC come in?
PRC’s strategy is capped on the maxim that Kenyan cities like Mombasa, Nairobi, among others wont be fed 100% by rural farming that majorly uses traditional methods of farming that are so inefficient hence lower in productivity but large scale in terms of land use. It is a shame to say in Kenya that one is a large-scale farmer especially counted in acreage but not productivity. PRC has decided to promote any urban dweller to be part of farming more so farming that is focused on productivity. From 1.56 Acres of land, PRC was able to produce tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber & spinach and gave PRC farmers, who received cheques worth over Kshs. 12 Million at a ceremony held at the Jacaranda Hotel on the 19th of October. Cumulatively, it is projected that the PRC farmers will earn a return of over 18.5% on their investment in the first 2 planting seasons. In that regard, PRC is encouraging smart farming.
Smarter farming, especially with PRC will definitely turn Kenya’s fortune with regard to crop productivity. Consequently, this will improve Kenya’s food security as it provides environmental benefits by lowering the carbon emissions by getting them absorbed into the soils but also reducing deforestation. This is due to PRC’s commitment to producing more food through improved crop productivity. That means PRC is creating a road towards agricultural advancement. But as is so often the case in Africa, the road to modernization is full of Potholes hence PRC should be prepared for this rough but worthwhile ride. This is my understanding of what is really a company’s Corporate Citizenship. It’s not about turning up with a dummy cheque in public to donate to the starving Kenyans, it’s about using what is within the DNA of the company to solve a systemic problem like hunger. Its not a smooth path for us at PRC but PRC governance is convinced that it’s a journey that Kenya must walk, less travelled but it’s where the solution lies at the moment.
Written By Dr. Ogola Fredrick, Strathmore University Senior Lecturer