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What is agriculture’s role in Jubilee’s plan?

COMMENTARY
By John K. Mutunga | January 6th 2014

By John K. Mutunga

As Kenya turned 50, a series of events to celebrate the momentous occasion were organised and various dignitaries were at hand to commission them, but agriculture was still treated to the back burner.

Despite its growth and development from Kenya’s Independence, occasioned by increased farm productivity, engagement of over 70 per cent of the rural populace, being responsible for 18 per cent of all employment and over 65 per cent of foreign exchange earnings, agriculture did not benefit from any of the recognitions staged for the celebrations.

New projects

As part of the celebration President Kenyatta was joined by other East African Heads of State in Mombasa to launch the standard gauge railway project.

Former Presidents Moi and Kibaki commissioned the Imara Daima Railway station, and the Road Network Projects in Nairobi respectively, while former Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched Makadara Railway Station, yet another infrastructural project.

The focus on infrastructure was very sharp by retired President Kibaki who initiated major roads projects including the Thika Superhighway – the biggest road project in East and Central Africa, among others.

The results have been amazing. Unfortunately, we may not speak so strongly about agriculture, the main livelihood supporter of the grater majority of Kenyans.

The Jubilee Government has picked up the tempo from the Kibaki regime and their focus on infrastructure is impressive.

However, even as we celebrate the Silver Jubilee, agriculture still remains the backbone of our economy and will continue to be many years to come. With more than 70  per cent of Kenyans depending on agriculture and with the emerging challenges and dwindling farm sizes, more attention needs to be given to this sector.

It therefore came as a surprise to farmers that no special attention was accorded to this sector. We wonder why? Is it because agriculture is practiced away from cities and therefore not visible like traffic jams and bad roads?

Is it because our leaders eat fresh food every day and have never missed a meal or eaten stale food to realise that agriculture is sickly?

Does our Government only react to things that it can easily see and which affects the urban population. Why is it that agriculture continues to receive less and less attention despite its importance?

What surprises us farmers is when we host Government officers; they seem to understand issues of agriculture. They talk passionately about what ails the sector, be we are afraid this does not appear to translate into any form of prioritisation.

The last time teachers went on strike, the Government found it wise to slash the budget from agriculture and transfer the same to education, whose provision is already several times higher than that of the former.

 Agriculture has still not been anchored in the national dialogue, at least not the same way as infrastructure and several other sectors despite its importance, and this is a tragedy for a nation whose population grows at such a huge rate and where food security is now becoming an issue of national importance if not security. We are shocked at the skewed focus of the Government regarding agriculture where only the State functionaries were given attention. 

Forgotten

As farmers, we expected to see at least one project associated with agriculture launched so that the sector is brought back to focus. We expected to see the President, his deputy or other dignitaries commission an irrigation project, a processing plant, launching a new seed variety or engaging farmers more practically and seriously, to get the satisfaction that we are driving agriculture to where it ought to be, not further relegating it to the very least if not last options.

Clearly apparent from the World Development Report (2008), the rate of development of agricultural countries (read Kenya) will significantly depend on how they interpret and invest in their agriculture, especially the smallholder type commonly practiced in Kenya.

Unless and until we put agriculture to the fore and engage in meaningful investments in the sector, it will take us quite some time to deliver the poor of this country out of poverty and effectively grow the economy, whose performance is significantly correlated to that of agriculture.

We urge the Government both national and county levels to consider deliberate efforts and more focus onto agriculture.

This is one sector that has the potential to create a million jobs without having to invest billions of shillings.

Many Kenyans especially in rural areas already own small farms meaning that with only a little support and favourable legislative and policy environments, they will be able to produce enough for their families and for sale. 

 

The writer is CEO of the Kenya National Farmers Federation and author of “Agricultural Value Chains for Agribusiness” .


 

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