The William Ruto administration has started handing out parts of Kenya's multi-billion food security project to private investors.
The William Ruto administration has started handing out parts of Kenya's multi-billion food security project to private investors, signalling a policy shift from former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure.
Agri-tech firm Twiga Foods has already started maize farming at the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme as it seeks to introduce other crops in a 20,000-acre plan under a public-private partnership (PPP) design.
The project has also attracted interest from firms in the US and Qatar. This is the latest major win by the firm co-founded by businessman Peter Njonjo, whose model has won the heart of the President who recently ordered the ministries of Trade and Cooperatives to give it Sh300 million from the Hustler Fund for lending to its suppliers.
Principal Secretary for Irrigation Gitonga Mugambi said the choice of Twiga was based on the work that they had done locally.
“We have visited the farms where Twiga is doing production and we were convinced that they are the best. They will not only help us in achieving food security but also create employment,” said Mr Mugambi.
Twiga, which has operated large farms mainly in Taita Taveta County, wants to develop part of the Galana farm after the government announced in January that it will be opening the mega irrigation scheme to private investors.
Twiga started operations on the farm last month and is currently conducting trials on 500 acres to establish how much yield it can attain from an acre as it prepares to roll out on large scale in the next couple of months.
Mr Mugambi said other investors will also be given a chance to farm in Galana in the coming days.
All firms that have applied for leasing at Galana will have to grow maize as a mandatory crop for one season, then they would be allowed to plant other crops in subsequent seasons for the remainder of the year.
“It will be mandatory for a firm to plant the basic food, which is maize. After that, they can have three seasons to plant whatever they want,” the PS said.
Twiga, which connects producers to end consumers and vendors, said last year that it would continue to work with smallholder farmers for produce such as bananas.
It is among a growing number of tech-enabled firms seeking to disrupt food and other consumer supply chains, connecting producers to consumers and reducing the number of middlemen in the process.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria recently said they want to emulate the Twiga model of distribution in supplying the cheaper commodities that the government is importing, a clearer indication that the State may opt to use the company’s already laid infrastructure to reach the masses.
At Galana Kulalu, the PS said, Twiga will be given 10,000 acres that have so far been developed with ready irrigation infrastructure while the firm will have to develop another 10,000 acres on its own.
This is the first time that the irrigation scheme is being opened to private investors after many years of false starts since its initiation in 2013.
The Galana Kulalu food project was one of Mr Kenyatta’s flagship projects to boost food security in the country in the first term of the Jubilee administration as the government sought to make Kenya food-secure and cut imports.
However, the initiative was derailed by misunderstandings between the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) and an Israeli contractor, with the State agency accusing the firm of overpricing the cost of the project.
The dispute arose from the amount that the contractor claimed to be owed by NIA.
The contractor claimed that NIA owed them Sh1 billion but the authority disputed the amount, saying that they only owed the Israel firm Sh200 million.
The project has fallen behind schedule as it was supposed to have been completed by 2016 and opened to private investors.
Mr Mugambi said NIA could not continue with the project as they lacked the financial ability to move it to the next phase.
“NIA will now play a supervisory role by ensuring that everything is moving on as planned. The development of the scheme, which they have been doing before, will now be left to private investors,” he said.