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Columnists

Rural urbanisation strategy the answer

 

By 2030, 50 per cent of Africa’s population will be living in urban areas. There are no plans on the horizon to accommodate all these new migrants.

Additionally, no one is admitting that productivity among the subsistence farmers is declining, a general slowing down of rural economic development and inadequate living standards.

The likely scenario, is the spread of more shanties in and around bigger cities like Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu etc. This imminent likelihood, can be averted if we consider radical economic restructuring and urbanising our rural areas.

Ordinarily, issues around economic reforms are precipitated by politicians but unfortunately, some of them now are in the Sky Team and failing to play part in the reform discourse.

The religious community that led Europe’s reformation, is disintegrating into directionless and commercial protestation that fleece the public through false promises of kupanda mbegu (planting seeds of hope).

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Aerial views of various counties such as Tana River, Murang’a confirm self-organisation by the people themselves into small village towns and creating room for farming. Other counties for example, Kisii, Vihiga, and Kakamega are on a self-destructive path. These counties have the greatest cultural affinity, small land sizes, a high birth rate and greater risk of widening poverty index.

Already crime relating to land is high in such areas as the resources get scarce. Many innocent people have died through false accusation of being witches when indeed it is the resource scarcity that precipitates such crime. Not surprisingly, these counties appear in the just published Socio Economic Atlas of Kenya as among the most vulnerable to extreme poverty.

What is lacking is a compelling policy of economic restructuring that would discourage primeval cultural inclinations such as land sub-divisions below uneconomical sizes, burials outside of cemeteries and building where there are no services.

Such policy should be followed by detailed regulations for urban planning including a comprehensive zoning law that recognises all amenities such as rural industrial parks and recreational facilities.

This will require public control of land use ensuring that those who have large chunks of land, either pay a non-use tax or comprehensively demonstrate (50 per cent of the land must be under cultivation) that the land is in use.

We must discourage speculative land purchases through taxes in urban areas to enable affordable housing for all.

We shall certainly be faced with very difficult times ahead if we fail to act now. There is no option but to consider a radical economic re-organisation and a planned rural urbanisation programme.

Legislatures whose selfishness obscures just and inclusive economic restructuring have either not read history or are unwisely trying to buy time at a time when more than 75 per cent of the population is under 35 years and cannot afford decent housing.

Furthermore, the revision of our cultures for a better future is dependent on the openness of our leaders and the commitment to a participatory process. For example, changing our cultural expressions on death may lead to greater economic benefits especially in cultures that dot their entire landscape with permanent graves impeding unrestrained agricultural activity on the land.

To stem migration from rural areas to the cities, we shall need industries in urbanised rural centres. Here is a story that demonstrates that it is possible to create opportunity at rural centres.

In 2006, Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) while focusing on three pillars of accelerated economic growth, human security and the prevention of global warming, identified One Village One Product (OVOP) concept in Kenya.

Their aim was to promote product development and export in Kenya. They demonstrated on how to manufacture parts of their high technology products.

Since 2009, the Ministry of Industrialisation has been conducting pilot projects. In my view, we should have run with this project and by now we should have completely revolutionised our micro, small and medium enterprises across the country and thousands of employment opportunities created.

In the recent past, media has covered agriculture extensively highlighting changing rural farming dynamics. Farmers are radically changing the status quo.

What is emerging is the fact that government’s failure to stem the outbreak of the Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease and infestation by the Striga parasitic weed is leading farmers to abandon maize for other high return crops.

This will likely cause a severe shortage of Kenya’s staple food and most likely lead to serious inflation. As part of economic restructuring, the government must give incentives to encourage large scale farming that would eventually replace the erratic subsistent farmers who in a new structure can take up entrepreneurship in rural urban centres.

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.

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