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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Uhuru directs ministries to secure Kenyan innovations

In Summary
‌• Uhuru said the government is implementing the CBC to keep up with the fast-changing world characterized by remarkable advances in science and technology
• President said CBC is "a fit-for-purpose learning system" that offers all learners an opportunity to delve deeper into scientific fields enabling them to achieve their aspirations.
 Ashley Talu and Happiness Wanjiru both from Ukulima Digitech
 presenting to the deputy president and CS Magoha at the YSK, 2019
Uhuru directed education and trade ministries to put in place a robust mechanism for securing scientific ideas, projects and innovations by the Kenyan youth.
The President said the country’s future lies in scientific innovations and called for concerted efforts by all stakeholders to ensure that transformative innovations are adequately safeguarded.
Uhuru spoke when he presided over the official opening of the second Young Scientists Kenya National and Technology Exhibition at KICC in Nairobi County directed relevant state agencies to secure intellectual property rights for young innovators.
President Uhuru officially opening the YSK event, 2019
Young Scientist Kenya (YSK) which is a joint project by the ministry of education and the government of Ireland is aimed at promoting innovations by young scientists. This year's exhibition attracted 235 entries and is attended by over 45,000 participants among them students from across the country.
The President said the government is implementing the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) to keep up with the fast-changing world characterized by remarkable advances in science and technology, particularly in information, communication and computing.
“This system (CBC) goes beyond the learning of science and technology that typified the old order and instead lays emphasis on practical learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), ” he said.
President Uhuru having a chat with the young innovators 
Head of State said CBC is "a fit-for-purpose learning system" that offers all learners an opportunity to delve deeper into scientific fields enabling them to achieve their aspirations.
To boost young innovators, the President announced plans to hold a national business boot camp within the next 9 months to refine viable innovations into commercial projects.
He directed the Kenya Intellectual Property Rights Office to offer free patents to viable innovations generated during YSK exhibitions.
“Further, and to encourage linkages with industry, I similarly direct a waiver of trademark fees with respect to all innovations emanating from Young Scientists Exhibitions, beginning from 2018,” the President said.
Uhuru said his administration is keen to replicate the Irish model of supporting innovation by offering special incentives for private sector investors who support innovations by the youth.
“Between our young scientists, the private sector and the government, we can ensure that the next groundbreaking discoveries and innovations in science and technology are of Kenyan origin,” he said.
The President challenged young scientists to develop innovations aligned to the country's Big 4 and Vision 2030 development agenda whose aim is to transform the lives of ordinary Kenyans.
“Focus on cost-effective innovations for enhancing our food and nutrition security, housing, universal health care and manufacturing, will be highly appreciated,” he advised.
Amb Fionnuala Quinlan of Ireland assured the President that her country will continue partnering with Kenya to ensure innovations by young people continue to improve so as to contribute more to the development and transformation of Kenya.
Ukulima Digitech is among the selected projects that is participating at the YSK 2019 event at KICC, Nairobi

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Challenges Startup Face

There are numerous barriers to entrepreneurship in developing countries. Africa is a foremost example in this regard as its entrepreneurs have to contend with some of the toughest conditions as compared to the rest of the world. Considering the continent’s great potential as an emerging market, it is quite unfortunate that so many problems plague its commercial sector.
Emerging business organizations in Africa play an important role in fueling the economy. A majority of the locals get their income from such jobs. And with the current rate of globalization, opportunities for growth abound at an inconceivable scale. However, a majority of business owners face challenges that are to a great extent exclusive to the continent.
These issues need to be addressed as Africa comprises the world’s youngest population which is likely to more than double by the year 2050. This means that demand for employment and stable income sources is set to experience a dramatic rise. In this article we would like to consider some of the most common challenges faced by entrepreneurs on this continent and possible solutions.

Problems Faced by Entrepreneurs in Africa
  1. Infrastructure
Economic development of any sort requires basic infrastructural framework. Good roads, consistent power supply and transportation facilities such as railroads and waterways are to a great extent lacking in most of Africa. Small manufacturers instead have to contend with constant power blackouts and surges. This in turn causes equipment damage and reduced productivity. Bigger firms have to invest in electric power generators and this makes the production process more expensive and the products end up being less competitive in the market.
The deplorable state of roads and railway systems is also a major problem for local business people. Moving goods from one part of the country to another takes a lot longer than necessary and incurs higher costs. This is particularly challenging for those who deal with perishable goods as by the time they get to their destinations some of their product is already damaged.
The continent also faces a poor communication network. The recent proliferation of mobile devices has greatly helped to improve on this aspect. However, the internet is still inaccessible to the majority of the populace. And even for those countries where it is accessible like South Africa, the cost is still way above the global average.
  1. Financing
Startups in all parts of the world mostly have to contend with limited capital. This makes it necessary for them to get extra financing to execute business operations. What makes this a major problem in Africa is the fact that there is limited access to such funding and that it comes with a hefty price tag attached.
Financial institutions have not kept pace with the rapidly growing number of small businesses on the continent. The fund base for financing these startups has thus remained stagnant limiting the number of firms that can gain access. At the same time, most of the small business operations do not have required business plans and other documentation required for funding. This makes the lenders hesitant to advance funding as the borrowers remain extremely informal and therefore high risk.
The business operators at times also suffer in silence as they lack knowledge about funding options at their disposal. Some are not aware of micro-finance institutions that would be more willing to partner with them than banks.
  1. Corruption
One of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurship in Africa has to do with corruption. It is common for traders to face an ethical conundrum whereby they either have to pay hefty bribes or risk having their activity blocked by high-ranking public officials. It deters both the growth of the region and the spirit behind entrepreneurship.
Such ethical issues in business have a widespread effect that at the end of the day reaches every facet of the community. When traders have to bribe to get the necessary permits or certification, they pass this cost on to their consumers. Anyone who refuses to pay such bribes experiences deliberate delays and other frustrations. Product prices remain high and supply is limited and this causes inflation.
Corruption also limits government revenue as there is always a way around taxes and other obligations. When the government has a revenue shortfall it translates to a budgetary deficit and limits development. Funds allocated for infrastructural development are misappropriated and some projects are executed with substandard material to cover up. Other projects never take off or are left unfinished. As discussed above, poor infrastructure is a big obstacle for investors.
It is clear that corruption has far-reaching tentacles that keep the continent in a vicious cycle that hinders entrepreneurship and stunts growth.
  1. Political Instability
Political uncertainty rocks a big percentage of the African continent. Businesses thrive on forecasts and speculations about the future. Accurate predictions rely on consistency and certainty. This makes political instability and uncertainty a major repellant for both foreign and local investment in areas marred by conflict.
Investors fear the chaos and social unrest that result as it adversely impacts day-to-day operations. It takes a lot of time and resources to set up business facilities. Government cooperation is especially important in facilitating the process. But when political unrest sets in, employees are forced to miss work, profits plummet and at times business premises are even destroyed by protestors.
This has become the order of the day on the African continent with major economies like South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt taking a major hit as a result this year.
Africa’s economic framework is largely based on agriculture. But conflict has made it continuously fail to reach its full potential in this regard. It disrupts the supply of input and distribution of farm output; it leads to massive price fluctuations and also causes labor displacement. This makes it hard for agricultural investors to maintain their business operations in volatile areas.
  1. Globalization
This has proved to be a double-edged sword in more ways than one for the continent. Even though it has presented numerous opportunities for growth and expansion, this has also limited this growth. Foreign firms have taken advantage of the low labor rates in the local market to export their production processes. This has been a big blow to the local manufacturers even causing some to shut down due to competition.
  1. Evolving Regulations and Policies
A majority of African countries have to work under confusing regulations and policies that are constantly changing. Import regulations in particular are extremely strict in many areas and this makes it very difficult to engage in meaningful international trade and raises costs. The inconsistency is also considered risky for traders and makes some shy off altogether.
  1. Gender Bias
There are some unique problems of women entrepreneurs on the continent that are exclusive to the gender. A majority of them have no property to set up as collateral for funding limiting their access to capital. Additionally, many financiers deem women as high risk borrowers and do not easily advance loans to them. Their mobility is also limited as the cultural set up frowns upon women who have to travel for business and seek accommodation in motels or other public spaces. A high percentage of women on the continent is illiterate as the girl child is rarely given priority in education.

Why food crisis remains a thorn in flesh for Kenya

Kenya’s food situation is worsening despite intervention by the government.
A myriad of problems ranging from corruption, weak policies, armyworm invasion, cartels, post-harvest wastage, outdated farming practices and declining soil fertility are to blame for the country’s perpetual woes.
This trend casts doubt on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda of making Kenya self-reliant in food production .
Experts say the country lost up to 10 million bags of maize last year due to post-harvest losses as a result of the armyworm infestation that the government took too long to respond to adequately. In addition, farmers could be holding another 15 million bags due to cash crunch at the National Cereals and Produce Board.
“If we dealt with the pests and handled harvests better, we would not be having this crisis today. We would have enough food to tide us over until the next harvest,” said Dr Dennis Otieno, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute.


The government blames lack of enough extension officers and shrinking acreage under the maize cover due to land subdivision for the reduction in production.
“A lot of extension officers have retired and we have not had a serious recruitment to replace them. These officers have been important in the sense that they help farmers with good agronomical practices to spur production,” says Johnson Irungu, director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr Irungu says since a major recruitment for extension officers was done in 2006, there have not been any significant staffing of the officials to replace a huge chunk of personnel that has retired.
Between 2011 and 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced a programme that would see farmers supplied with farm inputs and trained on good agnomical practices.  The programme dubbed Good Agricultural Practices saw the government provide farm inputs for free to farmers with one acre. The farmers were also trained on good agronomical practices under level one of this scheme. At level two, the government offered training and organised farmers in groups, and linked them to markets.
The move saw Kenya produce a record 41.9 million bags of maize in 2012, the highest to have been achieved in 34 years, according to data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The programme was, however, scaled down in 2013 following management change at the ministry, and with devolution, most of the agricultural functions were devolved.
This saw maize production decline in 2014 to 40.7 million bags and 39 million bags in 2015 before hitting a low of 32 million bags in 2017, according to projection by the ministry last year.

On Thursday, Red Cross started a campaign to raise Sh1 billion to feed 3.4 million Kenyans facing  hunger.  “We are keen on escalating our interventions through direct cash transfers, health and nutrition outreaches, rehabilitation of key communal watering points, animal offtake among others,” Red Cross secretary-general Abbas Gullet said. This comes two months after the government ended the Sh6 billion flour subsidy programme, which  was introduced in May last year.

Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa has said the government will spend Sh3.8 billion between now and April to fight hunger. National Disaster Management Authority chief executive officer James Oduor says the drought situation has been precipitated by poor performance of maize in the last crop season.
The government has pumped billions in agriculture in a bid to make Kenya self-sufficient in food production, but despite this, the country has not been able to feed itself, and mainly relies on imports to bridge annual deficits.
The presence of arable land, incentives to farmers and a relatively good weather has not helped in lifting production.
Dr Irungu says soil acidity remains a big challenge in Kenya’s breadbasket of North Rift as continuous use of acidic fertiliser has compromised the quality of soil.
In 2013, the government conducted a nationwide soil testing exercise that revealed that more than 80 per cent of the country’s land is not suitable for farming due to high acidity levels. However, enough efforts have not been made to address the issue, which can only be corrected by use of lime.
Farmers enjoy subsidised fertiliser from the government at half the price of prevailing market rates. After harvesting, they also enjoy higher prices on their produce. This year, the government is buying maize at Sh3,200 per 90kg bag, which is way higher than the global average of Sh1,500.
Dr Otieno says reports by Tegemeo Institute suggest that farmers in the North Rift are hoarding maize because the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is unable to buy it from them, and has been known to delay payments in the past due to insufficient funds.
“Around 15 million bags of maize were harvested in December, which should have been well beyond what we need to tide us over until the next harvest in May. Unfortunately, farmers have decided to hold onto their maize because NCPB is not financed well enough to pay them, therefore creating an artificial shortage of the crop,” he said.
But Ministry of Agriculture officials have dismissed the claims, saying farmers have been selling maize to NCPB at high rates experienced since 2008.
“We have received three million bags of maize from the December harvest, and we have so far paid the farmers Sh7 billion. It is inaccurate to say farmers are hoarding because the NCPB cannot pay,” he said.

He said the ministry has reduced post-harvest losses by transporting maize to market for farmers for free and by providing improved storage facilities.
But according to Dr Jane Ambuko, a senior lecturer in the department of plant science and crop protection at the University of Nairobi, these efforts just scratch the surface. She told Nation that Kenya will continue to experience perennial food shortage unless it figures out how to stem food loss  after harvest.
“Conservative estimates say we lose up to 30 per cent of food to post harvest losses, a gap the government has been slow to address. No matter how much we invest in production, we will not defeat hunger if we don’t deal with food storage,” she said.
Aflatoxins have routinely been found in cereals in Kenya and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation recently warned  that the country could be looking at an aflatoxin outbreak in five counties unless quick measures are taken.

These are some of the factors that have seen Kenya in the midst of yet another crippling drought despite the development of an early warning system.
Last year, the country was forced to import maize from Mexico after the food situation worsened in a move that saw a 90 kilogramme bag of maize sold at Sh5,000, forcing the government to release all the buffer stocks held at Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) to ease the pressure. This was the second time in a decade for the country to import maize outside East African Com following a serious shortage in 2010.
Tegemeo Institute of Research has faulted the government for not stocking enough maize at SFR, which worsens the situation in times of drought. “SFR is supposed to have a stock that can last the country for at least three months when there is severe shortage of grain,” said Dr Miltone Ayieko, a director at the institute.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Innovations in Africa to Improve Food Security

SEATTLE — At a high-level conference organized by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Uganda and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), scientists gathered along with regional government and civil society representatives to discuss how science and technological innovations in Africa could spur agricultural production and reduce food insecurity on the continent.
Dr. Cyprian Ebong, the executive director of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), pointed out lack of commitment and a recalcitrant status quo as reasons for the lack of speedy progress.
“There is tacit evidence that African governments and farmers are not committed to the use of science in agriculture,” Ebong said.
About 70 percent of Africans are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. With an increase in global population, due to the highest rate of population growth, Africa could feed over nine billion people by 2050 if it chooses to do so.
Still, the continent spends about $35 billion importing food despite its capacity to produce much of that food itself.
Scientists expressed concern about the increased use of chemicals to eradicate pests on the continent. More forests are being cleared to make way for farms and adversely affecting the same environment that breathes life into crops. They also underlined the high rate of post-harvest losses and said that the waste could be mitigated by the adoption of technological innovations in Africa.
“These challenges definitely require the application of science and technology to mitigate the impacts,” said Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, Uganda’s Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation. “Africa, therefore, needs to mainstream the utilization of science, technology and innovations to transform agriculture.”
The agricultural sector in Africa has the potential to diversify the continental economy, promote rapid industrialization, provide sustainable resource and environmental management, boost intra-Africa trade and create jobs. In a nutshell, the agricultural sector can eradicate poverty and hunger in a continent that has an enormous potential to feed itself.
Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, the coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nigeria, noted the negative impact of climate change on agricultural production. “Climate change exacerbates pests and disease outbreak… It is our responsibility to deliver Africa out of starvation, hunger and poverty. Encourage, invest in and adopt science,” she told the conference.
So-called agro-tech startups are blossoming in Nigeria and offering middle-class farmers an opportunity to get involved in the agricultural sector without getting to the down-and-dirty business of manual farming, or even having to visit the farms themselves. FarmCrowdy and ThriveAgric have enabled middle-class Nigerians to invest between $200 and $750 for a harvest cycle and nab attractive profits in return.
Funding for these existing farms enables smallholder farmers in Nigeria, who make up the vast majority of farmers in the country, add to their basic production resources and utilize their crop output for an even better livelihood.
These hard-working farmers, who perform the daily drudgery of manual labor in the farms, are able to receive capital and equipment through a quick sale of their harvested output.
For example, FarmCrowdy boasts a network of over 3,500 farmers and provides them with funds, equipment and even technical support to plant and harvest crops. This way, not only can small-scale farmers increase their agricultural output, but they can also boost their local and regional economy through the hiring of more labor and increased production.
On its website, FarmCrowdy breaks down its objectives of technological innovations in Africa into four major goals. The startup promises returns between 13 to 25 percent after harvest to farm sponsors and empowers local farmers by expanding their farm operations and guaranteeing job security. It also contributes to domestic food production and improves regional food security by utilizing arable farmlands in rural areas.
Similarly, ThriveAgric uses a slightly different approach by crowdfunding farms through leasing farmlands from communities and planting crops on-demand by contracting farmers.
Sometimes, the matter is as simple as education.
“There is a lot of interest in agriculture among Nigerians, but there’s little guidance on how to go about it,” says Onyeka Akumah, CEO of FarmCrowdy. “We want to educate them about the process in a way they can relate.”
Changes can manifest if policymakers, farmers and other stakeholders work in collaboration and combine their efforts.
Dr. Denis Kyetere, AATF’s executive director, noted at the conference that “advances in agricultural technologies and biosciences, in general, [were]immense, thanks to the convergence of crop science, biology and chemistry engineering and digital technology.” But, “to fully take advantage of the new exciting developments in agriculture, changes need to happen on the policy front” to spur technological innovations in Africa and help improve food security.
There is also the question of the underprivileged. About 200 million of Africa’s 1.2 billion population still live in hunger or are malnourished.
Underscoring the fact that implementation of technological innovations in Africa needed to be equitable, Sarah Davidson Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science told the conference, “We have to ensure that this technology does not bypass the poor. It’s a story of social justice.”

Food security under threat in Kenya

In Kenya, food consumption is outpacing food production. According to a new Institute for Security Studies report, annual agricultural production will need to increase by an estimated 75% from 2015 levels in order to meet consumption in 2030.
Kenya’s agricultural sector, the eighth largest in Africa by volume, has struggled to keep pace with consumption since the late 1990s. However, the difference between food supply and demand remained less than two metric tons until 2009 (see Figure 1).
And according to the International Futures (IFs) forecasting system housed at the Frederick S Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, the gap between consumption and production is projected to widen going forward. IFs forecasts that agricultural consumption in Kenya will exceed production by nearly 20 million metric tons by 2040. This means that imports would have to meet roughly 25% of agricultural demand.
Low productivity in the agricultural sector and rapid population growth are two key dynamics responsible for this growing divergence. Figure 2 shows that Kenya has a lower average yield than other lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries. While Kenya’s average yield is forecast to moderately improve over the coming decades, it will probably remain comparatively low.
Meanwhile, its population of over 50 million people is growing faster than those of other lower-middle-income countries and upper-middle-income countries. By 2030, Kenya’s population is projected to rise by 15 million people – a roughly 30% increase.
A number of factors contribute to low productivity in Kenya’s agricultural sector. Only about 2% of arable land is equipped for irrigation. Farmers struggle to gain access to adequate seed, fertiliser and other inputs. Uptake of new technology is low. The effects of climate change – a source of grave, albeit familiar, concern for many people in Kenya and in East Africa generally – present formidable threats to farmers and pastoralists.
Barring a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity, Kenya will need to import more agricultural goods, particularly cereals and other crops, to meet the needs of the growing population. Agricultural imports currently supply 11% of domestic agricultural requirements. It is projected that Kenya will have to import more than 20% of the agricultural goods required to meet consumption by 2030.
High dependence on agricultural imports renders countries vulnerable to fluctuations in global markets, increased national debt and variable weather patterns and can contribute to food insecurity. A spike in maize prices, for example, could leave many people in Kenya unable to purchase sufficient food. People who are poor or who already face obstacles to obtaining adequate nutrition are particularly at risk of experiencing recurring food crises.
The populations of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid counties – and in the Horn of Africa more generally – are already facing food crises. Poor or failed rains have resulted in chronic drought in seven of the past 10 years. In 2017, the government declared a national drought emergency for all 23 of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid counties.
Around 3.4 million Kenyans are severely food insecure while 309 000 have been internally displaced due to food insecurity and drought. Large swathes of Marsabit and Turkana counties have reached ‘crisis’ levels of hunger, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system, and are increasingly vulnerable to ‘emergency’ levels. This is one step away from famine.
An estimated 175 000 children have been absent from pre-primary and primary school due to drought and large numbers of animal deaths have been reported in Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu and Mandera counties.
Against a backdrop of climate uncertainty, the low productivity of the agricultural sector is stark. And while boosting the productivity of the agricultural sector alone will not solve the issue of food insecurity in Kenya, it can increase production and reduce the growing gap with consumption.
This is an achievable goal for Kenya. Public-private partnership investment in agriculture in arid and semi-arid areas is a key strategy for boosting productivity in the sector, according to Gituro Wainaina, former acting director-general of the country’s Vision 2030 development programme delivery secretariat.
Enhancing investment in climate change adaptation measures such as water pans and low-cost, small-scale irrigation projects, and in post-harvest technologies, can also improve yields and reduce losses. Improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets through better supply chain management is also critical to making agriculture more productive.
Through these efforts, Kenya may increase agricultural productivity, lessen its dependence on agricultural imports and, in turn, contribute to strengthening food security across the country.

Uhuru directs ministries to secure Kenyan innovations

In Summary ‌• Uhuru said the government is implementing the CBC to keep up with the fast-changing world characterized by remarkable adv...