The Kenyan government has come with an ambitious policy document to revive the dwindling agricultural sector. The plan dubbed Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy, 2019-2029 is a reaction to World Bank’s rebuke of the government’s handling of the sector. Agriculture is the backbone of our economy. It contributes to over 50% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product both directly and indirectly while employing over 40% of the total population. In a country that 80% of the food is produced by small scale farmers and over three quarters of the 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 that sank with Kes 7 billion taxpayers’ funds.
The plan involves dividing the country into forty areas where one million farmers, pastoralists and fishermen in 34 counties will be supported by government infrastructures such as irrigation systems and feeder roads. This will be supported by Small and Medium Enterprises to supply such inputs to the 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. 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 other services. This will be followed by a coordinated and integrated approach to implementing 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 also 50 new 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 the products, the government will construct 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 it’s a good sign from the government, a lot needs to be done to realize its fruits. First, you cannot have such a relatively good plan with bad laws. A few months ago, there were repressive milk laws that had been proposed by the Kenya Dairy Board but later suspended that would have killed small scale dairy industry. There was also the controversial Crops (Farm Bill) that sought to bar the use of raw organic manure in growing crops.
Corruption and mismanagement of resources have also derailed good plans in this country. It is estimated that 30% of Kenya’s budget is looted every year. Last year, there were cases of National Cereals and Produce Board officials irregularly allocating subsidy fertilizers. 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 plan should be open and transparent otherwise if infiltrated politically it will be subject to abuse.
The government also needs to bring in financial organizations to partner in order to bring into fold people who have the technical capacity and drive but are less endowed financially. In particular, the youths who form over 70% of the population and are hardest hit by the unemployment crisis in Kenya. If implemented well the plan could increase productivity and value addition, boost small scale households food resilience and incomes from the surplus sales. Otherwise, it will remain a good plan just like several others we’ve had in this country absorbing dust in government offices.