Restricting imports will support local capacity for sustainable food security


According to the Africa Agriculture Status Report of 2023, half the continent’s population grapples with food insecurity. FILE PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG

Dairy is a showcase of a fast-recovering agricultural sub-sector, supported mainly by the decision to stop milk imports. Without unfair competition from imports, farmers are currently enjoying much higher producer prices (about Sh50 per litre), which has become an implied guaranteed minimum producer price that reflects true production costs.

Surprisingly, despite producer price increases, consumer retail milk prices have remained mostly unchanged. This milk intervention model should be replicated for all critical food security produce.

I applaud the recent government restriction of cereals (maize, wheat) imports until all the harvests are fully accommodated in the market.

Farmers should never be subjected to competition from freelance importers. We should go a step further and compute cost-plus-based minimum producer prices for these grains to serve as market guidelines.

India was a net food importer until effective policies were implemented, making the country food surplus by the 1980s. Kenya can similarly do it because we had achieved it in years prior to 1990.

If the EAC import/export trade regulations are standing in the way of Kenya’s food self-sufficiency, let us move fast to modify them.

Due to unique weather and land tenure systems, food production costs in neighbouring EAC countries will always be lower. Without interventions on imports, Kenyan farmers are disadvantaged.

Another key enabler of national food security is local production of affordable fertilisers. Investment partnerships in manufacturing should be prioritised to enhance Kenya’s self-sufficiency in fertilisers which will cut out massive dollar spending on imports while reducing price volatility.

Every aspect of agriculture invariably requires appropriate fertiliser inputs. To accelerate the recovery of livestock sub-sectors (dairy, pork, poultry, aquaculture fish), Kenya needs to create robust local capacity for growing oil crops for both cooking oil and animal feed inputs.

Institutional capacity may be needed in the Ministry of Agriculture and counties to promote the farming of soya, canola, and sunflower. The payback is foreign exchange savings on imports while reducing volatility in cooking oil and animal feed prices.

Across all agricultural sub-sectors, the mindset should be investing in local capacity for food self-sufficiency to reduce foreign exchange spending on imports.

We need to be creative and pragmatic in establishing support systems for local food security and stop seeking the easy way out with imports unless there are genuine shortages.

Of late we have seen brave interventions in the sugar sub-sector which if followed through will reinstate jobs and sugar self-sufficiency.

George Wachira, petroleum consultant, [email protected]

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