• Grace Muinga, 2015 AWARD Fellow, Kenya

    The business sense of food security

    Assessing cassava planted fields under the CAMAP project in a farmer’s field in Kaoma, Zambia.

    For Grace Muinga, a desire to avoid the situation of ‘a hungry and angry continent’ drives her to work hard with Africa’s farmers. Grace ventured into agriculture because she was attracted by the opportunity to travel widely, having being inspired by her mother, who was a livestock officer and the opportunity to contribute to her Kenya’s food security.

    She chose to study agricultural economics at both undergraduate and graduate levels because she wanted a deeper understanding of the dynamics involved in food security. “Food security holds the key to improving a nation’s health, increasing school attendance and consequently its human capital, as well as increasing income levels. All these factors ensure both political and economic stability, of individual nations and the entire continent,” she says.

    This big-picture perspective drove her to apply for a master’s program at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom (UK). Being at Reading however, offered its own challenges and lessons for Muinga, as she taken odd-jobs in order to pay for the remainder of tuition fees and up-keep. “I worked odd jobs and studied hard, both which paid off as I was able to complete my studies within one year, and with distinction too!” says Muinga “Through this challenge, I was able to grow my resilience and inner drive to succeed” she reflects.

    Her Master’s thesis, on food insecurity in Ethiopia, helped her gain a Pan-African perspective. “I deeply related to the problems faced by these communities in Ethiopia, who had so much in common with those in my home country,Kenya, that I returned home to do something about food security here,” she adds.

    Muinga, got a job with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), once she returned to Kenya. AATF seeks to provide the continent’s smallholder farmers with appropriate and productivity-raising agricultural technologies. She finds her role as a program officer in agribusiness exciting because it allows her to evaluate the business potential of the technologies promoted by AATF. This information is useful in determining successful price points for technology adoption.

    For instance, in her current project, the Cassava Mechanization and Processing Project (CAMAP), she has seen that farmers who have adopted mechanized means of production increase their cassava yield fourfold! The project is currently running in Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia. For instance in Nigeria, farmers are now willing to pay for the agricultural machinery in order to improve productivity. These farmers are currently producing 28 to 33 metric tons per hectare, up from an estimated 7 to 10 metric tons per hectare under manual labor. For Muinga, it is these initial success stories of the CAMAP that motivate her to keep the project going.

    Another AATF project that is close to Muinga’s heart is, The Water Efficient and Maize for Africa project. This Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported project is making a tremendous difference for African smallholder farmers. “The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, is a collaboration between AATF and others partners to develop and provide farmers with new drought tolerant and insect resistant maize varieties. Farmers who adopt this technology are able to obtain yields even during periods of severe drought: which was previously a impossible,” Muinga explains.

    Even though Muinga found the AWARD screening process rigorous and intense, she is grateful for the new insights that she now uses when carrying out her work. “Through the gendered approach to agriculture projects gained from my time at AWARD, I am able to see my projects in a whole new light. This keeps me motivated in trying to find solutions that benefit men, women and youth. Even when I feel I have reached my limits, I find that I can go on, as I strive to constantly to improve my project to suit the needs of the whole community.”

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