Agriculture CS nominee Mithika Linturi eyes idle government land in food plan

Kenya is entering the era of growing GMO crops. PHOTO | POOL

Prisons, universities and parastatals will be forced to hand over idle land to private investors as government moves to jumpstart agriculture.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary nominee Mithika Linturi says parastatals with idle land will be compelled to surrender them for lease to private investors for commercial agriculture, should Parliament clear his appointment.

Mr Linturi told MPs that he will fast-track the implementation of a Cabinet resolution requiring State-owned institutions, including universities, to release idle land for the production of food to create new jobs.

The Cabinet in May, sitting under the chairmanship of former President Uhuru Kenyatta, approved the seizure of idle land in efforts to boost food security and reduce the cost of living. “If approved for appointment, I will quickly implement the Cabinet directive that parastatals with idle land release them for onward leasing to private individuals for production of food,” Mr Linturi told the vetting panel.

Food prices have rallied in recent months on poor weather and global supply disruptions in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has delivered costly wheat and cooking oil.

The Cabinet resolution seeks to implement a model where thousands of acres of public land will be leased to private investors for food and cash crop production through irrigation.

Some of the parastatals holding vast but idle land are the Kenya Railways, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the East African Portland Cement, Kenya Prisons, and the University of Nairobi.

The government has in the past failed in attempts to revive large-scale agricultural production with projects such as the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme.

The Galana/Kulalu Food Security Project was started in 2015 with the intention of opening up more than 1.2 million acres of land belonging to the Agricultural Development Corporation to irrigation.

Mr Linturi told the National Assembly’s Committee on Appointment that it is a shame for the country to go hungry when State agencies have huge idle land.

“We have many arable parcels of land owned by the government that are idle. It is a big shame that the Prisons department, for instance, has thousands of hectares yet they buy food,” he said.

“If you approve me for appointment, my first task will be to go to the Cabinet, get the resolution that requires the surrender of idle land held by ministries, departments and agencies of government and implement it immediately.”

Mr Linturi said he will be consulting technocrats, the Cabinet and stakeholders on how best to implement the Cabinet directive on surrender of surplus land.

“I will seek direction on how best to utilise idle land from the surrendering institutions to grow food,” Mr Linturi said.

He said his priority will also focus on the revival of the Galana-Kulalu scheme by completing infrastructure development to pave the way for lease to the private sector to grow commercial crops.

Mr Linturi said part of the land that will be surrendered will be used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops.

The Cabinet this month gave the green light to biotech crops after the restriction on imports and cultivation were imposed in 2012 on claims they have adverse effects on health.

On October 3, President William Ruto lifted the ban on the cultivation and importation of GMO products after 10 years of field trials by local scientists.

The move has so far elicited opposition from civil society that wants the technology to remain suspended.

The President said the move was aimed at addressing the country’s food security and lowering the cost of maize.

Last week, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation director-general Eliud Kireger announced that the country will have half a million acres under GMO crops in March-May rainy season.

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