Lessons for Kenyan farmers on the Dutch’s booming agriculture

BY BENARD AYIEKO The history of countries such as England confirms that agricultural revolution preceded industrial revolution. It validates the role of agriculture in economic transformation. In the U.S.A and Japan, agricultural advancement has fed into the industrialization process. Over time, Netherlands whose economy relies heavily on the agricultural sector and on exports nearing 83% of her GDP has the most progressive and transformational agricultural practices in the world. The Dutch’s agricultural prowess offers developing countries such as Kenya, lessons and opportunities for sharing their experience in increasing agricultural productivity. As the sixth largest economy in the Eurozone and the ninth best country for doing business, Netherlands has a highly mechanized and agrifood technology that provides huge surpluses for food-processing that asserts her global status as the second largest agricultural exporter after the U.S. The growth in Dutch’s agricultural exports reflects what seems to be a broader upturn in her bullish economy. Let’s pause for a moment, what are the Dutch famously known for? They are known for a number of things such as: tulips from Amsterdam, diamonds, liberalism, beautiful canals and widespread cycling. The least spoken about but the most important is the fact that the Dutch are experts in farming. Figures from the Statistics Netherlands (CBS) show that in 2015, the total value of the Dutch agricultural exports was Sh9.2 trillion – four times the value of Kenya’s 2016/17 budget. The most important export products reported were potatoes, vegetables and fruits amounting to Sh1.2 trillion, representing 14% of the total agricultural exports to multiple destinations. Similarly – potatoes, vegetables and fruits are Kenya’s key agricultural produce. Unfortunately, the Dutch’s output per acre of the aforementioned agricultural products dwarfs theour production by huge proportions, hence the need for Kenyan farmers to acquire appropriate farming knowledge and skills from their Dutch counterparts to boost agricultural yields. The choice of Netherlands as a key country to benchmark with on agriculture is based on rock-solid reasons. The success of her agricultural sector has seen the Dutch export eggs to the U.S.A and apples and pears to Vietnam. German, the biggest economy in Europe imports 25% of the Dutch farm produce. Three out of the world’s top 25 food and beverage companies are from Netherlands. Even though some of the largest producers of cocoa are in Africa, Amsterdam remains the largest cocoa port in the world. The rise of the Dutch agricultural sector is attributed to investment in research, use of simple food processing technology, machinery, tools and equipment and more importantly, their agricultural entrepreneurs use efficient and sustainable production systems and processes that have resulted in productivity levels that are five times higher than the European average. Above all, the Dutch have become very proficient in the field of agri-technology, where they employ robots to pick soft fruit, and have automated meat separators and potato processors. This is the kind of knowledge and skills that Kenyan farmers can learn from their Dutch counterparts in order to produce optimally and to remain competitive – regionally and globally. Kenya boasts of a favourable trade balance with the Dutch. In 2014, Kenya’s exports to Netherlands stood at Sh40.6 billion against imports of Sh18.8 billion leading to a trade surplus of Sh21.8 billion. Kenya’s major exports to Netherlands include horticultural products while imports include petroleum oils. Key inland investments from Netherlands are in the air transport services, agriculture and horticulture. Last month, Eldoret Agribusiness Annual Fair organized by the University of Eldoret witnessed over 60 Dutch companies in horticulture, dairy, aquaculture and potato industry showcasing their products and services in a ‘Holland Pavilion’ under the theme ‘Maximizing Agricultural Opportunities’. This was a good platform for farmer-to-farmer engagement that will lead to increased agricultural output and promote food security. Such Fairs and Exhibitions are instrumental in promoting stronger bilateral economic ties, friendship, and greater flow of investments and trade between Kenya and the Kingdom of Netherlands. Equally, the gesture demonstrates stronger commitment from the Dutch government and companies in strengthening the agricultural sector cooperation. This is what will deliver tangible and sustainable results in Kenya’s fight against poverty and assist in unlocking Kenya’s agricultural potential for economic growth, development and food security.

The writer is an economist, consultant and a commentator on trade and investment.

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