Kenyan economist speaks on behalf of farmers

By Ann Millington

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – She is a key mouthpiece and mediator between the institutes, which create genetically modified wheat and other technologies, and small farmers in Kenya responsible for implementing them. Though this job description sounds like someone with a degree in communications, Anne Gichangi is an economist and science research assistant at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

Gichangi frequently must bridge the gap and the lack of understanding of wheat to Kenyan farmers.

Maize is considered the number one crop in Kenya by farmers, which is why most plant it, but wheat is what Kenyans want for breakfast, according to Gichangi.

However, farmers attribute hectares filled with maize as more economically secure than those planted with wheat.


Rows of wheat line the test fields at CIMMYT on March 25, 2014. There are hundreds of varieties. Photo by Ann Millington

“We need to socialize with farmers and see that they are each empowered,” and understand wheat demands in the market. We inform, train, and do corrective action,” Gichangi said.

Gichangai also helps relaying the problems of farmers to the agricultural research institutions in Kenya. Outreach can be an issue, however.

“What is done by the institutes cannot always be replicated by the farmers,” Gichangai said.

Kenyans must adapt their sometimes-antiquated equipment to demands for higher wheat yields.

Gichangi helps inform and train farmers on how to grow wheat, taking up Norman Borlaug’s  cause of wheat development for worldwide food security.

Gichangi met Borlaug in 2004 during a trip he took to Kenya.

“We really appreciate him and miss him,” Gichangi said. “We can see the improvement since the time he came to Kenya.”

But like most African countries, Kenya is scrambling for the proper resources to produce high yield wheat.

“We need irrigation and dams in (certain) areas. It is too expensive for the country to assist with irrigation,” Gichangi said.

Though the government has started irrigation in the driest areas, there are still many rural farms that need water irrigation.

“We have land that is not properly utilized,” Gichangi said.

Given proper utilization, Kenyan farmers can grow wheat which could in turn generate more purchasing power for farmers.

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