Strengthening agricultural research in Kenya
High-level conference prioritizes research to transform the country’s agriculture
The Inaugural High Panel Conference on Agricultural Research in Kenya took place at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) on 13 September 2018. The conference brought together people from national agricultural research institutions, donors, CGIAR centres, local universities and the private sector to address food and nutrition security in Kenya in a changing climate.
Agriculture plays a key role in Kenya’s economy and national development, accounting for 70% of the country’s workforce, 25% direct of annual gross domestic product and 27% indirect through associated agro-industries.
Scientific research, innovation and technologies in the agricultural sector could contribute to the food and nutrition security ambitions of the Government of Kenya’s “Big 4 Agenda”, which aims to spur the country’s economy.
Research in agriculture is driven by societal demands in response to challenges such as food security, sustainability and resource inefficiency, product quality, scientific and technological progress, global challenges and productivity.
In their recommendations to policy makers, the conference outlined seven issues necessary to drive agricultural research in Kenya: 1) research–policy interface; 2) funding of agricultural research; 3) Kenya’s research agenda; 4) synergies among producers of agricultural knowledge; 5) bridging the gap between technology and practice; 6) data and information analysis and visualization; and 7) human resources.
“We have to adopt a systems approach to deal with these problems,” said Ravi Prabhu, deputy director-general for research with ICRAF. “The challenge is to connect what we are trying to do to each other and to human enterprises.”
Africa produces 1.8% of global research output. East Africa, in particular, relies heavily on international collaboration. Investment in science is necessary to increase capacity in the sector.
“ICRAF has been designated the role of convening Centre for the CGIAR’s collaboration with Kenya,” said Jonathan Muriuki, country representative for ICRAF Kenya. “We are, therefore, happy to support the nascent State Department of Agricultural Research to define the agenda in Kenya and to work with other CGIAR bodies to identify areas where our research will contribute to the Government’s Big 4 Agenda.”
“Research is a lifelong undertaking,” said Hamadi Iddi Boga, principal secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, in his opening remarks. “It requires very qualified human resources and adequate funding to keep pace with the global race in scientific advancement but we are not even there yet.”
Kenya lacks a critical number of PhD holders to engage in agricultural research. The conference recommended creating mechanisms to attract youth to agricultural research, such as scholarships, improved career progression for researchers, and enhanced training in agriculture.
Policies play an important role in the research–implementation–research cycle. The conference recommended that they should be informed by evidence produced by researchers rather than being based on hoped-for outcomes.
Favourable enabling environments were already in place and if maximized to their full potential, contribute to a significant transformation of agricultural research. However, policy constraints as a result of inadequate resourcing, weak coordination and collaboration among national and international research organizations, extensionists and users created barriers to realizing the opportunities.
“There are two big assumptions we make that we need to deal with,” said Phosiso Sola of ICRAF’s Drylands Development Programme. “Firstly, what we must do is address farmers’ needs and ensure that the technologies we develop from research address those needs; farmers will be able to use them because they are appropriate and easy to use. For this to work, policies should be driven by a bottom–up approach.”
“There needs to be direct engagement with policy makers and it has to be supply driven,” confirmed Milton Ayieko, director, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development at Egerton University, “whereby researchers generate impactful ideas and knowledge that then influences policy-making processes.”
The conference recommendations included identification of priority areas of research: climate-change adaptation, food fertility and degradation, alternatives to staple crops, food safety issues and market governance.
“All of us in the sector in Africa have to keep showing value for money to donors who want to support the transformation of agriculture. Combined, we have the necessary knowledge, expertise and capacity to revolutionize our food systems,” said Cathy Watson, chief of Programme Development at ICRAF.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.