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Ideas & Debate

Munya has what it takes to turn around fortunes of agriculture

farmer inspects her crop
A farmer inspects her crop at lower Subukia farm, Nakuru County. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Peter Munya’s appointment as the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture was both timely and appropriate. Timely because agriculture had of late lost momentum and also direction. Appropriate because Mr Munya’s experience in previous dockets equips him with the right understanding of critical pinch-points in agriculture.

Having been a governor of an intensely agricultural Meru county, the CS understands what motivates and disappoints farmers. His previous docket of Industrialisation has hopefully given him the understanding of why new agro-industries are essential for increased produce value.

The experience he gained in external trade empowers him to respond to threats posed to local production by irregular food imports. Hopefully he also now understands why we need to urgently correct imperfections in crop (coffee, tea) export marketing to increase net farmer’s earnings. His recent involvement in developing new crop export markets (e.g. avocados) will be a strong advantage. In short, the CS does not need much induction and should therefore hit the ground running.

In respect of critical food security produce — maize, sugar, rice, milk—Mr Munya should seriously consider publishing recommended minimum producer prices based on real cost of production and farmer’s return on investment. No matter the IMF opinion, food security cannot be left to the mercy of free market forces which permit uncontrolled competition from imports. Let us question the value of regional trade pacts if the net value of these protocols to Kenya is negative.

In respect of farm inputs, fertiliser importation is understood to be an area where quality over-specification by our standards authorities is making fertilisers unduly expensive for Kenya’s food security. It will be even wiser if we can support local fertiliser manufacturing. Fertiliser subsidies may be politically popular but these are neither effective, nor sustainable

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The CS will need to work very closely with animal feed manufacturers to reduce costs and imports of inputs by creating capacity for local inputs production, especially the oil/protein (soya, sunflower) crops. In the meantime taxes on feeds inputs should be removed as these are counter-productive to food security objectives.

I am sure the minister will find his in-tray full of study reports on coffee, tea, and sugar sub-sectors which for unknown reasons have remained unimplemented. Farmers and value chain stakeholders are waiting for practical structural corrections to these crop sub-sectors to deliver sufficiently sustainable value to farmers.

We need to accelerate development of capacity and systems for new foreign markets like fruits, horticultural crops, nuts, and pyrethrum. The uptake of the recently approved genetically modified cotton should be fast-tracked to revive a potentially strong sub-sector that will support manufacturing and thousands of jobs.

Transfer of the co-operative docket to Agriculture is for a very good reason- to organise farmer’s enterprise, create marketing systems, while providing credit support and inputs supply. It is the cooperatives (modeled on Danish and Israeli best practices) that drove the agricultural miracle of the 1960/70s.

In the 1980/90s, we allowed our agricultural co-operatives to crumble to the embarrassing state we see today. Grassroots, county and national cooperative societies and unions will need to be re-launched and effectively managed.

Agriculture is the number one pillar of our economy, and an economic multiplier with the highest job creation opportunities. It grows household incomes which support farmers socio-economic empowerment. Agriculture has to be lifted to a higher level of political sensitization...

I forgot to introduce myself. Although I am mostly domiciled in energy and petroleum, I have always been in farming and have equally endured farmers frustrations. I uprooted my coffee in 1992 when it became evident that the coffee sector had been irretrievably hijacked by corruption and bad politics. I moved into dairy farming only for KCC to collapse in 1997 also due to corruption, leaving us at the mercy of milk marketing brokers. Today, we continue to suffer from high milk production costs and uneconomic producer milk prices.

Mr Munya will need to urgently cultivate trust with farmers and stakeholder and walk with them to deliver a successful agricultural sector. I am sure the President has given him an ‘open cheque’ to promptly and significantly reform the sector.

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