Northern Ireland journalist and Guild member Chris McCullough successfully applied for one of just 15 places on a study tour to Kenya organised in partnership with the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. All costs were covered by the organisers once the delegates reached the capital, Nairobi. Here, Chris recounts what he saw and learned from this great opportunity:
It’s a few weeks since I returned from investigating farms and agri-businesses in the East African country of Kenya, thanks to being chosen as the sole UK and Irish delegate on the IFAJ/Agriterra Exposure 4 Development study tour.
The past few weeks have given me great opportunity to reflect on the trip and allow time to have all my reports on the various visits published in our weekly agricultural newspaper, FarmWeek.
The seven-day trip was filled with interesting places to document along with some very lively interviews with Kenyan farmers and those in the ancillary agri industries. Every hour of every day was used in travelling to dairy farms, milk-co-ops, a livestock market and adjoining slaughterhouse, pig farms and a plush commercial bank in Nairobi city centre, as well as many more.
Nairobi is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Kenya has a current population of 43m…and is growing at 1m per year. Pressure is mounting on Kenyan farmers to grow more food and for the country’s government to help farmers achieve this mammoth task.
Farmers in Kenya do not have very much to work with in terms of land but they sure are learning how to make the most of what they have. Land is in huge demand, commanding big prices of up to £30,000 per acre in Nairobi suburbs. Farms are small and getting smaller when divided among siblings upon the death of the farmer, which is putting ever-greater pressure on growing food and having enough land to be taken seriously by a bank or farm co-op to finance or market crops.
I was particularly struck by the huge passion all the farmers shared, no matter in which enterprise. They have such a huge hunger to learn new practices, new technologies and new management skills, that they are fast catching up on Western styles of farming.
Although Kenya is still decades behind the West in this respect, I was encouraged when one of the farmers told me: “Don’t slow down because we are catching up on you!”
Some of the group visits really opened our eyes to how a developing country deals with everyday farming, such as the visit to Kiserian livestock market and slaughterhouse. It was not for the faint hearted.
Each of the group expected the shock, but none of us expected the forward thinking of the directors in producing biogas from the slaughterhouse waste. Ingenious for a developing country – but they do need to stop smoking around the collection tanks!
Also, the entrepreneurship skills displayed by the Kenyan farmers were very encouraging for a visitor from a developed country. Most of the farmers displayed great skill in knowing how to fully utilise any marketing potential for their products and how to increase incomes by cutting out middle men. Europe take note!
Pictures: A Maasai farmer waits with his goats for sale at the Kiserian livestock market; look closely to spot one of the hazards encountered – a well camouflaged tarantula spider.
We sure fitted in a great deal of visits into the tour with early starts and late nights but it all was thoroughly enjoyable. The group gelled very well indeed and knew how to relax and laugh when the time was spared.
We battled fatigue, broken down buses and sore jaws from laughing, but all members made this their own experience not to forget.
Personally, the trip gave me great experience into learning about farming in Kenya and reporting on the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities farmers there, and the farming industry, encounter every day.
Fluctuating weather patterns create huge problems for farmers in Kenya who could lose their entire year’s income with a single heavy rainfall. Later investigations into some of the visits also gave me a totally different picture to what the journalists were being told. That’s one thing about Kenya, three directors of a company could tell you three different facts about their same company, and it’s up to the journalist to report which one is the more likely.
I have managed four weeks of reports in FarmWeek and on the FarmWeek and IFAJ Facebook pages. PDFs of my reports can also be found online on the IFAJ website. It’s not only my readers that are keen to know about my trip to Kenya; I also have to address an Ulster Farmers Union meeting on the subject.
Huge thanks go to IFAJ and Agriterra for allowing me to be one of the guinea pigs on such a venture. Thanks also must go to Jose van Gelder and Rien Geuze from Agriterra who put a great deal of effort into arranging everything for the group.
Articles: Read articles by Chris and other delegates on the IFAJ website.
Note: The media tour was sponsored by Interpolis, Grain Farmers of Ontario, AGCO, Vion Food Group and British American Tobacco.