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The 47 reasons Kenya should not be poor

By Isaac Kalua | December 6th 2020

Wine is a multi-billion dollar global industry. In 2019, Italy was the leading wine producer, followed by France and Spain. Consequently, in that same year, France earned US$11 billion (Sh1.3 trillion) from its wine exports, Italy earned $7.3 billion (Sh811 billion) while Spain earned $3.1 billion (Sh344.5 billion). For comparison’s sake, in the same year, Kenya earned Sh117 billion from tea, roughly one-tenth of what France earned from its wine exports.

Evidently, wine is a highly lucrative industry. It is therefore unsurprising that the grapes that produce wine are currently grown in 7.4 million hectares of vineyards globally.

Few of these vineyards, if any, grow in Kenya. However, time is ripe for Kenya to start taking steady baby steps into wine production and subsequent wine exports. 

Kisii County is taking these baby steps. Last week, Kisii Agricultural Training Institute hosted an exhibition to showcase its immense local manufacture and value addition strides.

Among the products exhibited was Ritoke banana wine, which was professionally packaged in wine bottles. This wine may not be in the champion’s league of global wines, but it is at least in the playing field.

With sufficient investment and meticulous professionalism, the Ritoke banana wine can get better with time and eventually place Kisii County on the global map as a wine-producing region. If that happens, Kenya might just start exporting wine and consequently benefit from the global wine industry.

The Ritoke banana wine is among a portfolio of banana products in the Kisii Banana Factory located in Kisii Agricultural Training Institute. The factory was jointly funded by the European Union and the Kisii County Government. That EU funding was part of a 1 million-Euro investment grant under the EU Instrument for Devolution Advice and Support (IDEAS) program.

This EU grant was first awarded to Makueni County a few years ago towards construction of Kalamba Mango and fruit processing plant. Thanks to this plant, mango farmers have a ready and reliable market for their produce.

It’s no wonder that more than 100,000 Makueni residents grow mangoes, making this fruit Makueni’s main cash crop. These sweet fruits earn Makueni farmers at least Sh2.5 billion every year.

Each of Kenya’s 47 counties has unique capability to carve out a niche in local manufacture as a whole and food processing in particular.

As Makueni processes its mangoes and Kisii processes its bananas, Mombasa should be processing its fish as Kilifi processes its cashew nuts.

Lamu should churn out high-value coconut products as Baringo processes and packages honey. Busia should process its rich cassava as Kiambu processes its pineapples. While efforts of the National Government and County Governments to process agricultural produce are laudable, more energy should be invested in attracting large-scale investments.

With the exception of a handful of governments like the United Arab Emirates, most government-run businesses rarely succeed as they are prone to political interference. They also lack the agility and laser focus needed to translate great ideas into great products, then into great sales.

Investors are guided by profits. They only invest when they become convinced of a return on their investments. They are not convinced by empty talk, but by concrete factors that include political will, optimal investment policies and tax incentives.

One of the score cards by which we should judge the performance of the national and county governments is contained in two simple questions – how many new investments have been actualised in your county? To what extent has private capital resulted in new factories and vast enterprises in your county?

Elon Musk, now the second wealthiest man in the world, has amassed his vast fortune through his majority shareholding of Tesla, the electric vehicle company that he founded in 2003. Would he invest in Kenya? The answer can be unearthed in the unfortunate experience of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.

A few years ago, he shelved plans of investing in Kenya, citing rampant corruption as the reason he grew cold feet.

Our 47 counties must drastically step up efforts of attracting investors into processing of our agricultural produce. They can only do so through good governance plus enacting and implementing investor-friendly policies.

That way, the dream of exporting our wine, fruit juice and other Kenyan food products will be realised sooner, rather than later. Think green, act green!

-The writer is founder Green Africa Foundation.


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