Organic farming comes to rescue rural farmers in Kenya from COVID-19 impacts

By Gitonga Njeru


John Mukumo Mwenda 45 is an organic farmer based in Eastern Kenya in his 45 acre farm in Tharaka Nithi County.  His farm is located 187 Kilometres or three and a half hours drive from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

“I grow different crops on my farm but it entirely depends on the season. Demand for organic foods is on a high demand in the country.   “This is because many people realize they are healthier and safe compared to foods that are cultivated the conventional method that uses insecticides and other harmful chemicals.

He grows Maize, Sorghum, Millet, and barley in his farm. In addition, he rears poultry and some small numbers of livestock as well.

Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization) show that organic farming uses compost to feed calorie crops and it is also recommended to plant carbon crops. All crops can be used for organic agriculture.

Farmers use sequestering the atmosphere carbon into the soil and crop roots and in the leaves in 60 per cent of the cultivated area.

According to the website of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) Mwenda is among 200,000 farmers in Kenya that practice organic farming and have been trained by the Kenyan government. The government has been using agricultural extension workers to train mostly small scale farmers.

Through the Government program, over 104, 211 Hectares of agricultural farmland has been converted into organic agriculture. An additional 12, 647 farmers are directly involved in the production of organic foods, some exporting their high quality produce to Western Europe and New Zealand.

Also this form of farming is well known to increase soil fertility and nutrients. “More Kenyan farmers turn to organic farming due to its advantages.

“We have instilled many programs to encourage them to keep on feeding the country. One issue is putting forward government agricultural extension workers. This has helped a lot and also providing them with local and international markets for their produce “, said Peter Munya, Kenya’s Agriculture Minister during an interview (always good to add where and when) In 2019 in most of the 47 counties where organic agriculture is practiced.

But other experts say that the government can do much more.

“If the government can reduce all forms of taxation on organic foods, money can flow more freely in the food supply chain, from farmers all the way to the consumer. Taxation on food products is too high in this country. Government should find other ways such as taxing the wealthy as it is done in western Countries”, says Dr. Harris Mule, a veteran economist and former permanent secretary in the Kenyan government.

According a presentation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), during the COVID-19 pandemic, food safety concerns have arisen.

During a Webinar hosted by the International Centre For Journalists (ICFJ),  Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO head of food safety, says that due to the various impacts of COVID more people worldwide are dying from malnutrition and contaminated food including many children under five.

He attributed these to the supply chain being affected to the global prevention measures undertaken by governments to contain the pandemic.

“Three million children under five years died due to malnutrition last year. One in every ten people also died from contamination related to agro-chemicals worldwide.

He said that there was also a shortage of vital foods. He emphasized that breastfeeding and pregnant women were vulnerable as many essential nutrients for their condition were in serious shortage.

According to the World Bank Kenya Economic Update, COVID-19 Erodes progress 2020.  The poverty rate increased to 13 per cent in Kenya last year due to the Pandemic.

“Six million Kenyans sunk into the poverty line in the country last year due to job losses. This means that many could not afford to purchase good quality food for themselves and their immediate families”, says Professor Germano Mwabu, a University of Nairobi economics professor and World Bank Consultant for Africa.

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