Why onions from Tanzania, eggs from Uganda are a hot cake in Kenya
A recent survey by the University of Kigali, Rwanda and the Open University of Tanzania on status of food security in Sub-Saharan Africa reveals that we risk being food insecure even a month after harvest. Granary system is noticeably disappearing in many rural families.
Food insecurity is further amplified by ungoverned land sub-division that is scaling down acreage of farming enterprises, lack of inputs optimisation, limited access to credit and lack of forethought or means to mitigate or adapt to the effects of agricultural shocks. It must be remembered that agriculture is the mainstay of most third world countries, contributing immensely to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
According to the World Bank 2019 first-quarter economic outlook report, Kenya’s real GDP is projected to slow down in relative terms, unlike 2018. Drought is partly to blame. The year 2018 experienced favourable harvests despite having suffered food shortage at some point.
The short rain season was below average, which obviously lowered agricultural output that was largely rain-fed. There was a delay of onset of long rains in 2019, which may potentially lower agricultural output. Sustainable development of a country lies upon proper planning and less of reactive measures that impose fiscal pressure.
There is a problem when the long rains delay because Kenya is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Perennial emergency response to dealing with starvation, especially in the northern counties is a clear indicator of unresolved puzzle of agricultural shocks in the country.
Scaling resilience in Kenya requires active policy intervention targeting production and productivity, especially among smallholders. We must improve smallholders’ income and enhance their competitiveness in the market to achieve food security.
Agriculture is undisputedly the major contributor to Kenya’s economic growth and poverty alleviation. With the underlying sectoral challenges that expose farmers to agricultural shocks, a number of macroeconomic policy reforms must be fast-tracked.
One of the ways is rethinking the prevailing fertiliser subsidy programme. Accessibility, timeliness and the hassle that farmers go through to procure the input is unwarranted.Among the many challenges limiting food production, the ‘curse’ of rain-fed agriculture is still at large. Long term solutions require a multi-stakeholder approach to spearhead policy development, research, and capacity development to enhance optimal water and natural resource use, and irrigation technology investment.
Another key approach is to leverage on the various disruptive agricultural technologies to boost productivity. Cost of installation, running and maintenance can be manageable if there is a deliberate effort by the government and key stakeholders to address cross border cost limitations to implements. I say this because drip irrigation, for instance, costs between
Sh120,000 and Sh150,000 per acre in Kenya. Even with ready cash to do the installation, returns on investment might take longer than necessary. Should mechanisation cost be addressed through policy intervention, then food production will go up. Modern techniques must also be employed to boost information access by farmers.
Finally, yet importantly, post-harvest losses and challenges of market access must be checked, again through effective policy intervention. The East African Common market protocol must mutually benefit across borders. We must be cautious not to make our borders excessively ‘porous’ lest we face an influx of agricultural commodities.
Kenya’s neighbours operate in a different tax regime and that could possibly be lessening the burden of production cost comparatively. This could probably explain why onions transported 1,500km away from Tanzania would have a competitive edge in the Kenyan market; so are eggs and maize from Uganda.
[The writer is a volunteer at Rural Outreach Programme]
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