ASK show must reclaim glory as Kenya’s premier exhibition

The ‘analog’ way of selling the Show (Fair?), must get ‘digital’. Mercifully, the current strategic plan addresses this concern. Therefore, it can only be hoped that the lost glory will be reclaimed by the Society and not a commercial entity.

So I attended the ASK Show, sorry, Agricultural Society of Kenya Show, sorry, Nairobi International Trade Fair.

This was 18 years after the last one I visited, which was in Mombasa. Irrespective, I wasn’t disappointed: the relic was intact. The tired buildings, the school buses aplenty, and the billowing dust were still in the air. Unfortunately, the 13 year old rebranding to NITF happened but in keeping with most rebrands, only the name changed. The culture, structure, systems and staff and planning didn’t. No. I lie. I noticed two things had changed. One, for a Saturday (a peak day), the overflowing multitude I expected was absent. And two, you could now pay for entry via M-Pesa. Now then. The question has been asked before: is the Show (sorry, Trade Fair) relevant? I wish to phrase it differently. Whom is the event selling to and what is it selling? Is it a modern International Trade Fair or the same old National Show?

Vision 2030 and a $1 trillion market

Now, there is an urgency towards embracing agriculture. Vision 2030 deems it so. In fact, there’s the TV program, Shamba Shape-up, Daily Nation’s Seeds of Gold and currently there’s a Mbegu Bora campaign among others. Also, as former PS, now fellow columnist Bitange Ndemo warned, we will regret turning arable land into gated communities and sisal plantations into golf courses. Further, Africa is being urged to make farming ‘cool’ for its youth. And as a World Bank report says, by 2030 meeting food needs of Africa’s middle class will create a $1 trillion (shs100 trillion) market.

A warning bell on agricultural trends in Kenya and Africa is ringing somewhere, and growing louder by the day. Unheeded, it will announce a death knell. With these worrying facts in place, the Trade Fair should be a shining beacon, giving continental direction in matters agriculture. Alas, I find it’s not. In fact, with a bulging ‘digital’ youth and a growing discerning middle class, whom is the drab, dreary and dull International Trade Fair (Show?) selling to?

Benchmark

The ‘Show’ should change tack. One of the things the annual event should do is benchmark itself against peers internationally and locally. Exhibitions abound in Kenya and include housing, education, motor and trade fairs. From the planning and advertising to accessibility and layout they are made to be must-attends. Interestingly enough, on average, I observed that their entry fee is slightly lower than the Nairobi International Trade Fair’s. Yet, the offering is so much more inviting. The ASK Show stands for agriculture which is now, more than ever, in Kenya’s and Africa’s economic sights. The ‘analogous’ ways of selling itself, must therefore get ‘digital’. After all, the event is not a human being that it must be on its deathbed at the 114 years it now is.

Agriculture and 21st C thinking

Further, with schools (urban and rural) still sending children to the Trade Fair, the opportunity still exists to capture these children’s imagination. Making farming ‘cool’ in their impressionable minds. As things stand, my son was bored stiff less than an hour in. Yet, he was the reason why I attended. Him having cornered me after years of my successfully evading taking him to the event. Think about it. With a growing number of expos seen as family outings, the Nairobi International Trade Fair should restore its status as the annual premier exhibition. Kenya is an agriculture-based economy. Kenya also enjoys global economic focus, with its Silicon Valley status. Also, Kenya is an entry point to Africa for multinationals. As such, the ‘International’ in Nairobi International Trade Fair should be activated.

Strategic Plan

In any case, this will be in keeping with ASK’s vision. The vision is “to provide the best forum for dissemination of information in agriculture, trade and allied sectors, globally”. Mercifully, the current strategic plan addresses these concerns. As such it can only be hoped that the lost glory will be reclaimed by the Society and not a commercial entity.


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