Kenya’s Treasury Secretary, Amb. Ukur Yatani presented the 2020/2021 budget estimates in parliament  with analysts trying to see how the government plans to navigate through a ballooning public debt, unmet tax targets and the covid-19 pandemic. Last year, I wrote this piece https://agriculture-first.com/2019/06/28/what-the-2019-20-kenyan-budget-had-for-farmers/ concerning the 2019/2020 budget breaking down what it meant to the farmers. My focus then being the little allocation to the agriculture sector relative to the huge role it plays in the economy and the Malabo Declaration. This year I want to focus on our agricultural planning while looking at the  implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects.

Various stakeholders in including the government seem to agree on the problems facing the agriculture sector. For instance, expensive farm inputs, climate change shocks, low productivity, accessibility to markets and lack of diversification are some of the issues the proposals seem to target. The problem is the policy instruments deployed to solve them . I do not want to assume that the government is short of competent staff in policy making but maybe we should start by evaluating whether previous interventions were implemented and their effectiveness. Without scrutinizing these issues, politicians will always get away with anything they propose. Even bad policies are designed to work for some people and that’s one of the reasons some stakeholders resist reforms designed to work for the majority. Just to highlight an example, the Kes 3bn Coffee Cherry Revolving fund proposed in last year’s budget. The fund was to provide farmers with advances at 3% but to date it has never been released despite being appropriated by the National Assembly. I am sure there are other projects or proposals earmarked in last year’s budget that have not been implemented.

After ensuring the projects have been implemented, it is paramount to conduct evaluations and determine the effectiveness of the policies or the returns on projects. Queries on the effectiveness of continuing projects will ensure that policy makers get it right the first time by using evidence to back their proposals. If not properly checked, politicians who have dominated our policy making arena will get away with anything. A case point is the Galana Kulalu project that continues to be funded by the taxpayers despite the dismal returns. As I have previously indicated, the Kenyan government should not have involved itself in the business of growing maize rather it should have ensured a conducive environment for maize farming and market forces would have pushed up the production.

In addition, as to any policies as they say, the devil is in the details. It is one thing to allocate funds to let’s say the Climate Smart Agriculture project but the exact activities to be funded are another thing. There should be mechanisms to plan and prioritize activities to ensure that funds are utilised prudently. This is possible through involving the targeted beneficiaries in the designed interventions. Use of evidence in policy making should be a norm. The government collects massive data during periodic surveys, and they would be of no use if their findings are not used in designing policy interventions. County governments should also actively collect agricultural data and work jointly with the national government to convert it into actionable plans.

National development planning (including agriculture) is not an easy task because in most contexts like ours, it is done in a political system that employs a short-term approach then dealing with bad consequences later. On this, we as citizens are equally to blame as we demand quick fixes to problems that require a long-term approach and that’s what we get. Jean-Claude Juncker, immediate former European Commission president once said, ‘We all know what to do; we just don’t know  how to get re-elected after we’ve done it’.

Last but not the least, corruption is a huge problem in the government and the agriculture projects have not been spared. In last year’s budget funds meant for Arror and Kimwarer were allegedly misappropriated. Even though, the Director of Public Prosecutions claims the investigations are narrowing on how the loans were acquired, the projects have stalled, and we are yet to see which projects have been earmarked for this year’s allocation to irrigation.

In conclusion, planning for agricultural development  is complex in an economy such as ours that relies heavily on agriculture. It is linked and dependent on other sectors and as such, must be done within a national development plan considering varying ecological, geographical and market needs. Trade and taxation policies among others come into play. This means policy coherence is of essence. It does not make sense for the Trade Ministry to promote ‘Buy Kenya Build Kenya’ initiative while Treasury and Agriculture Ministries cannot evaluate which taxes (if any) in our agri-food chain are increasingly forcing us to rely on Uganda and Tanzania.  Agricultural planning should be done over the long-term say 15-20 years with some form of  a medium term 5 year rolling plan that allows for adjustments as circumstances dictate. That means it should not be affected significantly by change of governing parties. The Kenyan Vision 2030 relaunched by the Grand Coalition government in 2008 was a good framework but has been overshadowed by other short-term plans such as the Big Four Agenda- President Uhuru’s legacy projects for his second and final  term. With ten years left and some projects yet to start, I doubt its aims will be achieved. Even the Kenya Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (2019-2029) seems to have been just another document.

Featured Image: Vision 2030 Presentation by Wahome Gakuru (2007)

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