IS AGRICULTURE RESEARCH ON ITS DEATHBED?

AGRICULTURAL research in Kenya has officially collapsed. That is the worst news in a country not only grappling with drought and starvation but also ranking high in corruption, tribalism and mismanagement or public resources. Over 3,500 employees of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) have not received their January salaries and have no idea when it will come. Officials have explained that the delay is caused by reorganization in the Ministry of Agriculture. And that is only part of the problem.
KALRO is one of the umbrella organization that brings together institutes that carry out agricultural and livestock research in Kenya. Without research, you may as well forget any further developments in agriculture.
Established by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Act in 2014, KALRO took over the work of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari).
Trouble for this organization started soon after it was established and things have gone from bad to worse.
In this financial year budget, KALRO had requested for Sh1.1 billion but was not allocated any money by Treasury. Officials then expressed fear that the organization would experience hardships and brain drain due to poor pay and lack of funds.
“Some of our scientists are likely to leave if we will not be given money for the harmonization of their salaries,” KALRO director-general Eliud Kireger in the media as having said.
And that is exactly what started to happen. Last year the employees received their November salaries on December 5. They received the December salaries on January 10 this year and now they are yet to get the January salaries.
A memo dispatched by KAROL director-general says that the salaries have been delayed due to reorganization in the Agriculture ministry.
The memo dated February 6, 2017 reads: “This is to bring to your attention that KALRO has not received funds to settle salaries and other operations for the month of January 2017. This delay has been occasioned by the reorganization an alignment of funding or parastatals in the Ministry of Agriculture and this has affected KALRO. There are consultations between the ministry…and other relevant departments to conclude the matter. You are therefore advised to be patient as KALRO Management is pursuing the matter with the parent ministry”.
The ministry does not state how long this delay will take.
Back to the field, critical research programmes in the institutes have completely stalled according to internal sources.
At the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation, research on sugar varieties that has taken over one decade has been abandoned and completely collapsed.
A lot of time and massive resources deployed in this research work have gone down the drain. Research on sugarcane varieties takes well over 15 years before it can be completed and approved.
Kenya Sugar Research Foundation alone has about 150 workers. Its breeding center is in Mtwapa, while other stations are in Mumias and in Rongo, South Nyanza.
The ISO certified institute has state of the art facilities in Kisumu which are now in the verge of going to waste.
Before the Karol was established the Foundation had worked on structures of promoting its staff and improved remuneration. The structure had been approved by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission but suspended to await the formation of KALRO.
Last year the Finance minister withdrew the Sugar Development Levy, which was used to finance the research institute.
With those steps, the employees are watching as the institute, like all others under KALRO, collapse right in their eyes.
Failure to pay the employees has completely demoralized them. With no salaries for weeks, the workers, some of them highly trained scientists report to their offices in the morning and log into the internet in search of greener pastures. Others have been reporting to work and leaving immediately to look for money for survival.
“We don’t even have drinking water in our offices,” says one employee. He recalls old days when the Sugar Research Foundation was thriving with adequate resources and external funding. “Things are bad. No one cares about research anymore, when we can’t even get salaries,” he added.
Apparently, KALRO is one of the highly tribalized parastatals. Almost all the top officials share the same language with those in the parent ministry, a fact that every employee observes. This has made things worse.
All this happening at a time when the country is facing severe draught and lack of enough food. Locally produced agricultural products are facing the worst competition from imported varieties, some from across the borders in Tanzania and Uganda.

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