Blame devolution for Kenya’s falling food production


A farmer samples her withered maize in Embu County. FILE PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO | NMG

It is not a secret that Kenya has been suffering the consequences of a ravaging drought for more than a year now.

First quarter 2017 GDP growth stood at 4.7 per cent largely due to a notable contraction in agriculture. The 1.1 per cent contraction in the sector is obviously informed by the drought.

For example, the drought has decimated the production of tea—one of Kenya’s key exports; production is expected to drop by 12 to 30 per cent.

Livestock production has also been devastated with estimated losses of 40 to 60 per cent of livestock assets particularly in the North East and Coast. Maize farmers in Uasin Gishu continue to generate measly yields from their farms.

How did we get there?

This is the first major drought to affect the country since the advent of devolution.

Are there issues that have emerged in the context of devolution that allowed the drought to grip the country to the extent it has? The answer seems to be yes.

Paltry budget allocations

The first issue is budget allocations to agriculture. According to the International Budget Partnership (IBP), national government allocated the sector as follows: Two per cent in 2015/16, 1.3 per cent in 2016/2017 and 1.8 per cent in 2017/18.

As IBP points out, the Maputo Declaration 2003 calls for allocation of at least 10 per cent of total national budget towards agriculture.

The average in Africa is 4.5 per cent; Kenya’s national allocations are sub-par.

These paltry allocations may be due to the fact that agriculture isn’t an attractive sector to finance.

Infrastructure remains a priority for national and (it seems) county governments because physical assets can be pointed to as proof of ‘development’. The same cannot be done with agriculture; it seems to be wallowing in neglect.

Work together

Second concern is the lack of coordination between county and national government.

It is still not clear who is responsible for what in agriculture. While it has been devolved, the truth is that the national government through the Ministry of Agriculture, is still a key player in the sector.

The work I have done at county level makes it clear that neither county nor national government are of the view that they are in charge of the sector. 

As a result, the sector is wallowing in a lack of ownership riddled by a lack of collaboration and coordination between the two levels of government. This allowed the drought to reach the scale it did.

Support farmers

The third is a breakdown in support services to small-holder farmers and poor early warning systems; both should sit in the county government.

It has been noted that extension services that rural farmers used to enjoy are gone.

Aside from fertiliser subsidies, smallholder farmers on whom we rely for food, need continuous support to make farms more productive, limit post-harvest loss and make sure their products reach markets.

County governments also seem to have failed in the early warning systems that should have signalled the crisis. The governments seem to be having difficulty in playing their role in the sector and it is not clear why.

It may be a combination of lack of technical capacity as well as limited financial allocations. What is clear is this cannot continue to happen.

National and county governments need to not only prioritise agriculture in terms of budget allocations, but also solve the coordination problem that is so clear.

Ms Were is a development economist

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