Ideas & Debate

Will next president pass agriculture budget test?


The electoral manifestos recently published by the two main contenders broadly cover requirements for reviving agriculture which is a key engine for economic growth, jobs creation and sustainable food security.

However, what will differentiate promised actions and implementation effectiveness is sufficiency of national expenditure allocated to agriculture. Another critical enabler is harmonisation of agriculture policies, budgets, and farmer mobilisation between the national and county governments, both of which should be reading from a common-purpose script.

There is need to capture, interpret and learn from the ongoing global, regional and national economic and food crisis. A key message is that food security is an inseparable component of national security. Secondly, national food self-sufficiency is a critical economic factor.

Offshore and regional food imports weaken our balance of payments while compromising national capacity for food security. These principles should prompt national food and agriculture policies that shun imports and boost local production at every opportunity.

The incoming government will need to promptly interrogate fairness and justification of EAC trade protocols which permit unhindered inflows of lower-cost food imports into Kenya. These demolish Kenya farmers efforts and capacity to achieve national food self-sufficiency.

By “temporarily ” stopping imports of milk into Kenya in the past couple of years, our dairy sector is strengthening with the potential to achieve economies of scale that drive unit costs down.

Over-dependence on grains from neighboring countries has recently proved awkward when those countries opted to divert exports to other countries offering more returns than Kenya. Yes, regional food exports can also be used as political weapons when relations are sour, as often happens.

In respect of offshore food imports, the new government will need to guard against vested interests that thrive on justifying food imports which clearly compete with local production. Only genuinely required imports to balance local production should be authorised.

As was done with milk in 2020/21, there will be need to issue minimum producer price guidelines for critical food items (maize, wheat, rice, sugar, and milk) which are based on genuine farmer costs and a fair return.

Minimum producer prices are an essential early policy action, ahead of farmer capacity mobilisation through extension services, fair input costs, credit support, and above all, flawless marketing systems that ensure timely and full payments to farmers.

The dollar-generating export crops (tea and coffee) have received basic enabling reforms over the past couple of years. The incoming government will need to ensure that their value chains are protected from market practices that reduce value to farmers.

The excellent performance by the horticulture sub-sector ( flowers, vegetables, fruits) should be supported with essential infrastructure, while protecting the sub-sector from unjustified levies. Above all, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should strengthen capacity for export trade advocacy in key destination countries.

In respect of the livestock sector(dairy, pork, poultry, beef) the incoming government will require to make quick policy decisions to salvage a sub-sector that is under enormous pressure due to the unavailability of affordable feeds. Capacity for local production of quality starch and protein inputs for animal feeds will be required.

Maize, sunflower seeds, and soya are critical inputs for animal feeds and can grow in most parts of Kenya. They also serve as valuable sources of cooking oil which are mostly imported. Further, quick science-supported policy decision to permit planting and importation of genetically modified crops for animal feeds will be needed.

Turning to non-food commercial crops, especially cotton and pyrethrum, these provide raw materials for local industries which support exports and imports substitution, while creating thousands of jobs along their value chains.

Water scarcity and climate change should be seen as a challenge and not an excuse for failing to meet our food security and jobs targets. Dams, which are nearing completion, should be prioritised for early commissioning. Otherwise, available water resources should be smartly exploited using whatever technologies that are available.

There is no debate about agriculture being the number one national economic driver and generator of jobs. What has historically been a contradiction are the meager budgetary allocations to agriculture.

For the incoming government, increased level of budgetary allocations to agriculture will be a differentiating factor. Supported by policies that significantly expand local production and shun food imports.

Another key success driver for agriculture will be proven credentials of the persons appointed to steward the ministry of agriculture.