Caption: Simon Ndung’u from Kenya.
Kenyan Alumnus Simon Ndung’u completed his Master of Global Food and Agricultural Business at the University of Adelaide in 2016. Upon his return to Kenya, he continued to work for the Ministry of Agriculture as a sub county agribusiness and marketing officer in Lurambi. His role includes promoting a farming business culture and encouraging farmers to; leverage agricultural credit, develop value chains, utilise marketing systems and monitor agricultural markets performance.
Lurambi is a constituency of Kakamega country government (western Kenya), which has a population of over 1.6 million people, increasing by 25 per cent annually. Kakamega County is endowed with many natural resources, including the Kakamega tropical forest (Kenya’s only tropical rainforest). Agriculture is a critical sector for the county employing up to 80 per cent of the population. Also, smallholder farmers expand close to forests to expand their agricultural activity. The population growth has not been matched by an increase demand for resources such as social amenities and food. Consequently, up to 47 per cent the county’s citizens lack sufficient food, and the poverty index is high (over 51 per cent live below the poverty line). Due to the relatively large population and low farm productivity, the inhabitants of this county cannot meet their food and nutritional needs from their small farms, resulting in food insecurity.
The population rates exacerbate the high incidence of food security and low farm productivity, particularly as the demand for food cannot be met by local food suppliers. Introducing new agricultural practices can respond to the challenges. ‘There is an opportunity to intensify crop and livestock production systems, and to utilise the arid and semi-arid areas for both livestock and crop production’ reflects Simon. His interventions include increasing farmers awareness of modern technologies that will improve productivity and create value addition through produce processing, which increase the shelf life and value of products. Such inventions will have a positive impact on the farmer’s livelihoods as it can increase revenue.
Simon implements these interventions through various projects that he is involved in, which have been rolled out by the county government. There is a subsidised farm inputs program, which aims to increase farm productivity by providing certified and subsidised seeds and fertiliser to farmers, resulting in decreasing the financial burden carried by farmers, which impinges their profit potential.
Also, his department has collaborated with the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to disseminate agricultural information to farmers. He has begun a project to implement an ICT for Agriculture project in Kakamega County that will result in the digital dissemination of agricultural messages to farmers. This project, with the University, will develop an interactive mobile phone application to serve farmers in Kakamega County.
Lastly, Simon is active in a project focusing on the scale-up of sustainable land management and agro-biodiversity conservation to reduce environmental degradation. The intended outcome of these projects is twofold, the ability of farmers to respond to climate change, contribute to food security and increase their earning potential as well as the continuation for agricultural communities to forge their livelihoods in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Simon’s development contributions extend to gender equality by advocating for opportunities to include women. He acknowledges the insufficient inclusion of women in the governance of community resources. ‘Women are often left out of key decisions and are not allowed to own land or plant crops such as bananas or agro-forestry trees’ says Simon. As a result, he has collaborated with Shibuye Community Health Workers, a community-based organisation that deals with the advocacy, governance and empowerment of women and vulnerable members of society to involve women in the conservation of natural resources, such as the forest. Ultimately the collaboration is aimed at enabling women to gain equal rights in land ownership so that they can access finance from banking institutions and other organisations.
Simon attributes his Australia Award experience to enabling him to localise global trends within the sector. His ability to collaborate and use his networks has strengthened his capacity to implement projects that improve the livelihoods of farmers in his county. Also, his exposure to the gender equality and social inclusion principles have enabled him to identify the opportunities to empower grassroots women.