Organic Farming Kenya is a huge opportunity for local farmers to cash in, but is also an equally ignored industry at the national level
by Mariga Thiothi
When you hear the word organic, what comes to mind? Food that goes off too soon? Unavailable? Too pricey? Adverts for Farmer Market events, which seem aimed at the upper middle class only?
This, however, pales in comparison with the amount of the non-organic agriculture industry in Kenya. Of the total agricultural land in Kenya, only 0.3 percent is certified as organic farming.
It’s true that there’s a lot of confusion about the meaning and purpose of the word organic but it’s really pretty simple, as nature intended.
Organic agriculture practices is farming in the most natural way possible. It’s farming that’s holistic and centered around environmental conservation, maintaining biodiversity, promoting health, preventing soil erosion and maintaining the balance of nature. It’s farming that doesn’t involve pesticides, artificial fertilisers, hormones and GMOs and works towards harmonious and sustainable relationships with the environment.
The Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF) was formed in 1986, and from there organised organic farming took root in Kenya from the early 90’s. Since then, there’s been a steady but slow growth in the industry with organic food produced in Kenya totaling approximately 5 million tonnes which is roughly equal to the amount of sugarcane produced locally, according to the Kenya Public Policy and Research Institute. This, however, pales in comparison with the amount of the non-organic agriculture industry in Kenya. Of the total agricultural land in Kenya, only 0.3 percent is certified as organic farming.
With the rise of lifestyle diseases associated with toxic and contaminated food in recent years, consumers have become more conscious about their eating habits. There’s no amount of exercise that can save someone from an unhealthy diet and the quality of your food starts on the ground, at the farm level. These trends point to the long-term potential and benefits for the organic industry in Kenya.
Despites organic farming’s relatively low uptake locally, it presents a great opportunity for small scale farmers (who provide the bulk of local food production nationally) to increase output while using cheap and organic production inputs, which can be sourced directly from the farm. It will give farmers more consistent yields, shield them against the volatility in cost of farm inputs, improve the soil quality and increase income generated. Most of all it will help Kenyans lead healthier lives.
According to Dennis Andaye, the Head of the Organic Farmers Market, it’s good for everyone involved in the production value chain and for the environment.
“Farmers and food producers play a critical role when it comes to our health and environment in Kenya. We can achieve better standards in both areas through farmers that embrace and are willing to take the path of ecological farming practices. Every individual deserves exceptional food and in whatever we do, we must support biodiversity,” says Andaye.