Budget policies fail food and nutrition security

In Summary

• The 2019 Budget Policy Statement unashamedly has a preference for industrial agriculture and large-scale production of staples

• It is silent on supporting food diversity and indigenous food crops

Food and nutrition security is not a consequence of agricultural productivity. It will be the cause of it. It is therefore necessary to shift Kenya’s fiscal policies to address food security, before agricultural production.

Food security is not a problem of production. It is a problem of access and distribution. And, the power imbalance between who is able to do just that—access and distribute. Nothing makes this clearer than waking up to the news of hunger-related deaths in Turkana. There is food in Kenya, so why are the people of Turkana facing starvation?

It is at this time that we need to know what’s in the 2019 Budget Policy Statement (BPS), which sets out the budget policies and allocations under the Big Four agenda. It was published by Treasury in February. Public outcry in June, when the budget speech is made, is too late because by that stage the budget is final.

The BPS 2019 unashamedly has a policy preference for industrial agriculture and the large-scale production of staples. In so doing, it undermines the food and nutrition security of Kenyans.

An estimated 32 per cent of pesticides banned in Europe are used in Kenya.

Firstly, because for the past nine years, small-scale farmers have consistently produced the bulk of Kenya’s food, accounting for over 70 per cent of the value of gross marketed production of agriculture and food.

Secondly, because the majority of people suffering from chronic food insecurity are small-scale farmers. The food poverty headcount rate in rural areas is 35.8 per cent (3.8 per cent greater than at national level), translating into 10.4 million Kenyans who lack adequate food. KNBS defines food poverty as individuals unable to consume the minimum daily calorific requirement of 2,250 Kilocalories (Kcal) as per expenditures on food.

The BPS 2019 budget allocations to agriculture and food production in the FY2019-20 amount to Sh52.1 billion, compared to the current FY2018-19 printed estimates of Sh 45.7 billion – an increase of Sh 6.4 billion. However, it would be in vain to comment solely on the modest increase that agriculture is receiving without assessing where that money is being allocated.

Budget policies are silent on investments that go beyond the large-scale production of staples, towards supporting food diversity and indigenous food crops that are climate-resilient and nutritionally rich.

The National Food and Nutrition Security Policy (2012) recognises that most Kenyans still subsist on diets based on staple crops (mainly maize) that are lacking in nutritional diversity and have particularly devastating consequences on child development.

A farmer at his maize farm in Samburu
ECONOMY'S BACKBONE: A farmer at his maize farm in Samburu
Image: FILE

Food security therefore encompasses availability of adequate quantities diverse food commodities such as other cereals, fruits, vegetables and animal products. In the NFNSP (2012), the government commits to promote the production of nutrient-rich foods (crops, livestock, fisheries) through food diversification.

Despite recognising the importance of knowledge and education, budget policies are silent on the question of extension services. Extension services are a critical mechanism for information dissemination and capacity building to small-scale farmers.

With the view of supporting Kenya’s economic growth in 2019-20 and mitigating against economic risks such as adverse weather conditions or changes in the global economy, extension should focus on post-harvest management, water harvesting and storage, nutritional diversity and agro-ecological systems of farming.

Ironically, an agro-ecological approach to farming (which relies on using and re-using locally available natural resources) is rather akin to the fiscal consolidation plan that Treasury has emphasised in the BPS. That is to say that state ministries, departments and agencies will have to adopt the culture of doing more with less that is available to promote sustainability and affordability.

Despite rising food safety concerns and prioritisation on environmental conservation as a Big Four enabler for broad-based sustainable economic growth, the widespread use of chemical pesticides and regulation thereof is not addressed in fiscal policies.

An estimated 32 per cent of pesticides banned in Europe are used in Kenya. A proposal to address this would be to levy environmental taxes on chemical pesticides on the basis of their toxicity to the environment (land, water, air), human and animal health. This would mobilise fiscal revenues while mitigating the negative effects associated with pesticide application and encourage a shift towards environmentally and ecologically friendly agricultural systems.

As our parliamentarians go into the phase of budget review and debate, we call on them to make proposals and amendments to the country’s fiscal policy that favour small-scale farmers, keeping in mind that their first and foremost responsibility is to progressively work towards the realisation of the constitutional right to food.

Until such time as budget policies and allocations provide evidence of a changed way of thinking, meaningful political commitment to achieving 100 per cent food and nutrition security for all Kenyans, remains in question.

Project lead, Route to Food Initiative