The Government is working towards realizing increased food production by Sh400 billion from commercial farming through the ‘Big Four Agenda’ strategy, State Department for Livestock Principal Secretary (PS), Harry Kimtai, has said.
Kimtai added that the government is also planning to increase agro-processing Gross Domestic Production (GDP) by about Sh 130 million.
This, he noted, will be done through six planned agro-processing hubs and high-volume standardized inputs from large-scale farms.
Speaking at a media breakfast, Tuesday, on the upcoming virtual joint International Grassland and Rangeland congress at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research organization (KALRO) in Nairobi , the PS said that the government aim to unlock 50 large-scale private farms, to bridge the production deficit of priority value chains, which includes fodder production.
Kimtai, however, said the opportunities can only be complimented, if prevailing challenges of grassland and rangeland resources are addressed.
“Many changes are limiting the contribution of grasses to the productivity of livestock and these include; dependence on few grass species and overgrazing,” he said.
The PS acknowledged that the impact of the droughts on the population have been increasing exponentially from 1970s to date, threatening the sustainability of rangeland resources and creating economic and environmental challenges, that need urgent attention to safeguard the well-being of the communities, especially the pastoralists.
He explained that productivity of rangelands has been greatly affected by the frequent droughts and floods that characterize the impacts of climate change and variability.
“Kenyan rangelands, especially the ASALs, are susceptible to these changes of weather and are characterized by high incidences of poverty and malnutrition, requiring frequent relief assistance,” he said.
The situation, he added, has been worsened by increasing human population and consequent shrinkage of the rangeland resource base and rural urban migration in search of alternative livelihoods.
Urgent measures and interventions, he noted are therefore required to protect the rangeland resources and enhance their sustainable utilization and livelihoods.
“Investments in the rangelands monitoring, rehabilitation and improvement will greatly contribute to the attainment of food and nutritional security as envisaged in the Constitution of Kenya and the Vision 2030, and in line with worlds’ sustainable development goals (SDGs),” he said.
The PS said that the upcoming grassland and rangeland congress that Kenya will be hosting and it being held for the first time in Africa, will promote the interchange of scientific, and non-scientific information on all aspects of grasslands and rangelands
“This first-ever joint congress in Africa is significant, as this region offers diverse and unique tropical savanna ecosystems, which are home to some of the most economically important grasses in the world,” the PS said.
Kimtai noted that the Conference comes at a time when the government this year, launched ‘Rangeland Management and Pastoralism Strategy, 2021-2031’ that looks at both reduction of degradation in the rangelands, increase in land productivity, development and adoption of technologies and supporting enterprises in these areas.
KALRO Director General, Dr. Eliud Kireger, said the institute is working towards the introduction of more adapted and productive grasses and improved livestock such as the Boran and Sahiwal cattle.
He added that in order to deal with the perennial feed shortages, KALRO has also introduced, through its Arid and Rangelands Research Institute (ALRI), re-seeding program, where grasses, mainly indigenous and adopted, are re-grown in the rangelands.
“We have secured registration of four range grass varieties by KEPHIS, that will facilitate commercialization of these varieties and make the seeds readily available to farmers for establishment of new pasture fields and restoration of degraded rangelands,” the DG said.
Dr. Kireger further said that KALRO has laid the foundation for pasture breeding work in Kenya, by collecting and conserving (in situ and in the gene bank), over 300 grass accessions from the larger northern and southern Kenya rangeland.
The DG also confirmed that in the coastal lowlands and highlands which are currently experiencing droughts and in other parts of the Country, Brachiaria grass varieties released by KALRO, have been introduced to support the livestock sector.
The upcoming Congress which will be held virtually from 25th to 29 October, has been organized under seven-thematic areas of grassland and rangeland research and development, with a balance between the people/social/policy and on the more traditional topics.
The Conference will be under the theme “Sustainable Use of Grassland and Rangeland Resources for Improved Livelihoods.”
In Kenya, rangelands occupy 80 percent of land and home to about 10 million people. They support about 70 percent of the national livestock population and 90 percent of wildlife that is key to the tourism industry.