Rotich budget missed opportunity to address Kenya’s food security

Cabinet Secretary of National Treasury and Planning Henry Rotich holds the briefcase bearing the Kenya Budget for 2019/2020 financial year at the National Treasury offices June 13, 2019. [David Gichuru/Standard]

Is achieving food security for all Kenyans a mirage? Is it really a priority for policymakers, beyond its inclusion in the much hyped Big Four Agenda?

Many wonder if food security is even a realistic national goal at all, given recent political pronouncements on the stump. That food security is a “non-issue”, or at the very least is “not” a national emergency. Some politicians stated that Kenya has “adequate food” in its breadbasket–and the only challenge is moving it around.

The Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury and Planning Henry Rotich yesterday issued the National Budget Statement for the 2019/2020 Financial Year, setting out the Government’s taxation, spending and funding proposals and policy priorities. Amid the pomp in this annual ritual, lies the danger of over-expecting, given weak capacity in aligning annual budgets to national priorities outlined in policy blueprints.

The real question for many Kenyans is how the budget impacts their lives and whether they will have enough food to eat. These in turn depends heavily on agricultural production and the food security situation, now in dire straits. This nation seems to forget too easily that a few months ago, media was awash with disturbing images of Kenyans dying of hunger, with an estimated one million facing starvation.

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Statistics estimates

A significant proportion of the population suffers from chronic to acute food shortages at individual and household levels due to a deadly cocktail of food poverty and income poverty. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that one in every three citizens does not get the minimum daily dietary and caloric requirements.

Kenya’s food security seems to be worsening by the day. In April 2019 the National Drought Management Authority classified the food security situation in 10 counties as “critical”. This could turn into a full-blown national emergency.

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The prices of Kenya’s staple foods are rising sharply, limiting affordability. Delays in the onset of long rains and forecasts of below-average rainfall will reduce food situation as well as lower food output and yields. Why do these issues matter? The nation’s precarious food security deserves to be the national government’s top budget priority. Kenyans enshrined in the Constitution the right to adequate food of acceptable quality, as well as the right to be free from hunger and to attain the highest standard of health. Government is expected to spare no effort to deliver on its Constitutional mandate for food security, or at the very least to support Kenyans to progressively realise the right to food.

Alas, this does not seem to be the case. Budget allocations to agriculture and food security in the next financial year are a paltry 3.2 per cent of National Government revenues. This is grossly inadequate for a priority sector that is also a pillar in the Big 4 Agenda. Spending on food security is trending downwards, and has fallen from 3.5 per cent in 2017.

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 Great risks

A Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report on the budget finds that while Sh374.1 billion has been allocated to sectors described as “Enablers”, only Sh76.1 billion is allocated for implementing the Big 4 pillars, including food security. The PBO also adds its voice to concerns that budget resources for implementing the Big Four are inadequate

For food security to be a “priority” for government, expenditure on agriculture and food needs to be a significant item in the National Budget and close to the 10 per cent Malabo commitment that Kenya signed up for. We also need to stem the declining share of budget spending on agriculture and food.

That poses great risks to the economic well-being and stability of the nation and could harm an important sector that contributes 34.6 per cent to GDP, directly employs 56 per cent of the labour force, and generates 65 per cent of our merchandise goods exports. By comparison, others take agriculture and food seriously, with the EU allocating close to two thirds of its budget to the sector.

The Printed Estimates of Government Expenditure published recently indicate that agencies responsible for setting government’s strategic priorities on agriculture and food production are not convinced of the need for decisive action on food security. This is pitiable and a missed opportunity to address the “right to food” and ensure no Kenyan dies for lack of food. As the Budget Statement is presented and debated, the right to food for every citizen needs to be amplified and fortified.

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Mr Owino is a Consultant and Financial Sector Specialist

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Big Four AgendaGovernmentBudgetHenry RotichFood security