REVIVING FARMING

Execution to make or undo agriculture policy

If well implemented, the plan could increase yields, value addition, boost small-scale households.

In Summary

• You cannot have such a relatively good plan with bad laws.

• Government needs to step up corruption war and put in place people of integrity to manage this ambitious plan.

A woman picks coffee berries at the Paradise Lost coffee farm in Kiambu.
A woman picks coffee berries at the Paradise Lost coffee farm in Kiambu.
Image: FILE

The government has come up with an ambitious policy document to revive agriculture. The Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy, 2019-2029 is a reaction to the World Bank’s rebuke of the government’s handling of the sector.

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy. It contributes to more than 50 per cent of the GDP, directly and indirectly, and employs more than 40 per cent of the population.

In a country where 80 per cent of the food is produced by small-scale farmers and over three-quarters of arable land is arid and semi-arid, one would expect previous policies to align to these issues rather than large-scale projects such as Galana-Kulalu in Tana River county, which sank with Sh7 billion of taxpayer money.

 

The plan involves dividing the country into 40 areas where one million farmers, pastoralists and fishermen in 34 counties will be supported with infrastructure such as irrigation systems and feeder roads.

Small and medium enterprises will supply inputs to farmers at the government’s cost. A key deviation from previous plans is that an electronic voucher system will be in place for farmers to access the services.

The bidding for the 50 large-scale farms should be open and transparent, otherwise if infiltrated politically it will be subject to abuse.

There also plans to employ 200 national and 3,000 youth officials who will be equipped with management and technical skills to act as extension officers. With this plan, 1.4 million small-scale farming households will be empowered to access inputs and services.

This will be followed by a coordinated and integrated approach to implement development partners’ initiatives in strengthening food resilience among vulnerable communities.

But the government is not abandoning the idea of large-scale farms altogether. There are plans for 50 farms of less than 2,500 acres each. The guidelines of the process and requirements for bidding for these farms is yet to be rolled out but it will be done jointly with the county governments.

It is understood that these farms will also benefit from government support in infrastructure and inputs.

To enhance the marketing of products, the government will build six agro-processing hubs through private-public partnerships for local and foreign markets. According to the plan, April was when the first hub feasibility study was to be launched followed by roadshows with local and foreign investors.

 

Although this strategy document is laudable and a good sign from the government, a lot needs to be done to realise its fruits. First, you cannot have such a relatively good plan with bad laws.

A few months ago, the Kenya Dairy Board proposed, but later suspended, repressive milk laws that would have killed the small-scale dairy industry. There was also the controversial Crops Bill that criminalised the use of raw organic manure.

Corruption and mismanagement of resources have derailed good plans. It is estimated that 30 per cent of the budget is looted every year. Last year, there were cases of National Cereals and Produce Board officials irregularly allocating subsidised fertilisers.

The government needs to step up the war on corruption and put in place people of integrity to manage this ambitious plan. The bidding for the 50 large-scale farms should be open and transparent, otherwise if infiltrated politically it will be subject to abuse.

The government also needs to involve financial organisations to bring into fold people who have the technical capacity and drive but are less endowed financially. In particular, the youths who form more than 70 per cent of the population and are hardest hit by unemployment.

If well implemented, the plan could increase productivity and value addition, boost small-scale households food resilience and incomes from surplus sales. Otherwise, it will remain a good plan just like numerous others gathering dust in government offices.