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Editorial

Today, Kenya is in a historic situation, following a repeat presidential election after the annulment of the August 8, 2017, scheduled elections, by the Supreme Court. Kenya has no doubt been trending, since September 1 when the presidential election was annulled. As I write this editorial, I am reminded of what I always say; that without good governance and political stability, chances of moving forward become difficult. Kenya is largely Christian but nonetheless very respectful of other faiths; we are a praying nation and we are doing just that, hoping that we eventually find ourselves and begin to create better lives for all our people. I must admit though that the future appears uncertain.

As we struggle to redefine who we are, issues of importance such as health and food security have taken a back seat. Yet, we all must eat, daily, and I am afraid that we shall again soon be faced with food shortage. We as Rural Outreach Africa are doing our best to encourage farmers to continue with their agricultural and other income-earning activities. We still have to eat, and families still have to feed their dependants. That is a challenge that we must not lose sight of.

I wish to use this medium to acknowledge all the goodwill and congratulatory messages I received following the 2017 Africa Food Prize Award that I shared with Madame Maimouna Sidibe Coulibaly of Mali, a seed company proprietor. I have received all these with great thanks and humility. As I have told many people since the news broke out on September 6, 2017, it is not about me, but about the cause; accolades go to all those who have let me into their lives, all who have cheered me on, and all who have supported me in one way or another, and they are numerous. Ultimately, we all have helped to impact positively, the lives of smallholder farmers, mostly women that I have spent many years with, out there in western Kenya. Through Sasakawa Africa Association, where I chair two Boards, I have had the opportunity to visit smallholder farmers in 4 countries: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali, and Uganda.

Since I received the AWARD, I have visited SAFE universities and farmers and farmers’ cooperatives in Nigeria. Bayero University in Kano State is doing amazing work, connecting their value chain work with smallholder farmers and operating state of the art Tissue Culture Laboratory and a laboratory for land-use mapping. I was encouraged to visit women smallholder rice farmers, engaged in climate-smart agriculture, and to witness Nigeria’s determination to get back to feeding her people. The Federal Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed to us that Nigeria’s rice import bill has drastically reduced. Nigeria’s agriculture had for decades given way to oil resulting in a situation where even the most basic of food products were being imported. All that is changing, and very fast.

I have also attended the AFAAS (African Agricultural Advisory Services) extension week in Durban, South Africa. This was the 3rd such event, with the first two having been held in Botswana and Addis Ababa. Attendance was really good, and South Africa used this Forum to announce the launch of their agricultural advisory services to farmers. The Minister of Agriculture inaugurated the very first extension awards, his own initiative and so he stayed on for 2 days to witness it come to fruition. It was the agricultural extension “Oscars”, very impressively organized and executed, and bringing in the private sector to contribute the cash awards.

I then proceeded to Kigali, Rwanda, to attend ICIPE’s BioInnovate launch of Round 2 of call for proposals and to listen to winners of Round One pitch their projects to investors. The 2-day meeting richly demonstrated some very good work by African scientists. This Program being run by ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology), based in Nairobi, Kenya, is sponsored by the Government of Sweden, through SIDA and runs to 2022. The word bio-innovate is so key here especially when it comes to what we can innovate naturally in Africa to feed the continent and beyond, or to create wealth through value addition. When it comes to food products, some of these are packed with nutrients and help to diversify the diet. Many of these delicacies need not be consumed in large amounts to confer health benefits. African governments should make deliberate decisions to support bio-innovation in their countries, and even better still at the regional level. This is a very exciting area of research but one that can lead to real products, and unique ones too.

What I saw that should be encouraged in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals is collaborative research and development between CGIAR, local and regional research bodies, the private sector, potential investors, relevant government agencies, farmers and the media. We had everyone in this meeting in Kigali, which provided for very interesting discussions and interactions. Finally, we visited Uganda for SAA/SAFE board meetings and had a chance to visit farmers and agribusiness facilities, as well as machine fabricators and to observe how the youth are involved in activities along the agricultural value chain. The most pleasing observation had to do with the fact that the Government of Uganda has finally figured out how to bring back public extension to assist smallholder farmers.

In all of this, capacity building and training are key, and extension is key in moving relevant research findings to farmers and policy makers, to ensure all these practical findings do not just sit on shelves.

Ruth Oniang’o
Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND