For a country whose manufacturing sector has never fully picked up, Agriculture, which contributes 26 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has had to sustain the Kenyan economy. Yet this often repeated statistic might give an inaccurate picture of the situation of Kenya’s agricultural sector.
With the grim reports coming out of the sector, Kenyans have a reason to worry over the direction the industry is taking. Farmers are literally struggling. Maize farmers in North Rift who are currently harvesting their crop have held their breath.
There are at least three active taskforces looking to revive miraa, coffee and sugarcane farming which are on their death bed. Yet the situation seems dire for sugarcane farmers in western Kenya. Mumias Sugar Factory, at one time the flagship cane miller in the country, is sinking in debt and has been put under receivership. At risk is the collapse of rural economies, whose livelihood is solely derived from agriculture.
About 70 per cent of Kenya’s rural population is engaged in agriculture and are now getting desperate for the fortunes in the sector to turn. By prioritising agriculture among his key agenda, President Uhuru Kenyatta has the right idea to empower farmers to produce enough to feed its own population.
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There have been efforts to promote diversification of crops and the Ministry of Agriculture has provided farmers with subsidised inputs. With the trials on BT coffee and the revival of textile factories such as Rivatex, cotton farmers have a reason to be optimistic.
But beyond that, the government should look at resuscitating some of the agricultural parastatals such as Agricultural Finance Corporation to finance some of the small-scale farmers who are unable to access financing from banks.
The ministry should also strengthen its relationship with the county governments so that the two governments can play a complimentary role in reviving agriculture. It can never be too late to get it right.
We urge the government to invest more in extension services and work with development partners to breathe fresh life into the sector.