Opinion: Food security and health must top budget agenda

The national Budget is just around the corner. This is perhaps the right time to revisit the Big Four agenda, especially the food security and universal health components.

These two, in my view, are the twin engines needed to propel the Big Four plan to success.

Food and health are the most essential human needs without which life is miserable.

This is not, however, to downplay the other two pillars - housing and manufacturing.

Shelter is a basic human need while manufacturing provides jobs and products for human consumption.

But a hungry, malnourished or sick population cannot be productive let alone prosperous.

Investing heavily in food security and universal health care is, therefore, imperative.

Food security has significant health benefits for the entire population and ensures sustained economic growth. Increased food production also creates a strong base for value addition through agro-processing.

Universal health coverage, on the other hand, ensures a healthy population that is able to engage in gainful economic activity, including food production.

Healthy people are productive and are able to earn and save to build houses. Universal health also creates opportunities for local manufacture of medicines and other medical suppliers, thus making them more affordable.

These are just examples of the linkages between all the Big Four pillars of health, food security, housing and manufacturing. However, food security and universal health are the core foundation of a prosperous nation.

The recently released Budget Policy Statement (BPS) 2019 has prioritised the “Big Four” in terms of government expenditure in the next financial year 2019/2020. One of the notable highlights is the enhanced allocation to agriculture and health, the domicile sectors of food security and universal health.

The BPS reveals that Sh56 billion will go to financing agriculture projects mostly those targeting food security. These include food processing, a viable catalyst for manufacturing in Kenya.

Another Sh93 billion has been allocated to the health with universal health coverage as the main priority area. These allocations will be progressively be enhanced to Sh424 billion and Sh99 billion by 2022 respectively.

Sceptics of the Big Four agenda have always pointed at the “meagre allocations” to these two important sectors. The BPS, however, signals a shift in the State’s fiscal priorities going by the numbers.

Corrupt cartels

It is for Parliament now to ensure that these enhanced allocations are not trimmed to fund non-priority expenditure as has previously been the case.

Food security and health are the most important investments a government can bequeath its people.

The enhanced budgetary allocations to food security and health should also be ring-fenced from corrupt cartels hell-bent on diverting such funds.

The BPS 2019 has identified several initiatives geared at raising production of maize, rice, potatoes, meat, milk and fish - the drivers of food security and nutrition.

This also includes boosting smallholder productivity and lowering the cost of food as a percentage of income.

Some Sh1.4 billion has been allocated to strengthening the strategic food reserves while another Sh4.3 billion will go to purchasing 120,000 metric tons of fertiliser.

This money should be properly utilised and channelled to small-scale farmers who account for the larger chunk of production.

Another Sh514 million has been set aside to establish 15 agro-processing projects which is expected to boost local manufacturing and provide a ready market for farm produce.

Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]