How Ruto team intends to fix misery of farmers

Green Tea in a farm in Kericho. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

One of the key campaign promises by President-elect William Ruto was to resuscitate the agricultural sector.

He undertook to establish a Sh30 billion revolving fund, which, he said, will provide access to capital and farm inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, which he said will double or even triple agricultural output. For Ruto, agriculture is the real solution to the high cost of living being experienced in the country.

Agriculture, he noted, is the most competitive sector in the country, and is an economy that requires quick action, as it has the highest multiplier effect on all the other sectors on job creation and agro-processing.

"In our plan, we have set out with clarity what we need to do. We have put in place Sh30 billion revolving funds for farmers to access capital and inputs and Sh12 billion for agricultural extension. This will help double if not triple agricultural ouput. Two million farmers who are importing can produce a surplus," said Ruto when he spoke during the presidential debate last month.

According to Ruto, increasing agricultural productivity is what should be done to deal with the high cost of living that is affecting millions of Kenyans across the county.

To bring down the cost of living, the Kenya Kwanza team said it will ensure farmers have access to inputs, capital and markets.

Agriculture subsidy programme

Ruto, a former Agriculture Minister in Mwai Kibaki's government, noted that suspension of the agricultural subsidy programme denied farmers access to affordable farm inputs.

Ruto has also spoken extensively about the impact of the high cost of animal feeds and the trickle down effect it has on dairy farmers.

"For a cow that produces two kilograms today, if it has access to food, in one month, it can double the production; so agriculture has the highest or the quickest return on any investment," Ruto said.

While presenting his manifesto to Kenyans, the President-Elect admitted that Agriculture though an important sector in the economy, has not been given the priority it deserves.

"We find ourselves in this place because one, we did not capitalise our agricultural sector. We removed the fertiliser subsidy programme that existed, which we reinstated three months ago. Why did we withdraw it in the first place?" he posed during the Presidential Debate.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reported a high inflation rate of 7.9 per cent for June 2022 and rose to 8.3 per cent in July. This was a result of increased prices of basic food products by 13.8 per cent in June and 15.30 per cent in July.

"Kenyans spend 52 per cent of their income on food. The biggest contributor to the high cost of living is the cost of food. So dealing with the cost of food deals with the high cost of living," Ruto said.

Ruto blamed a flop of the Big Four Agenda - in which Agriculture was one of the pillars - for myriad of challenges facing the sector and farmers in the country. He regretted how the cost of living has risen exponentially hurting many families.

"Even in the situation of drought in the year 2017, a two-kilogramme packet of Unga then was retailing at Sh140. Today it is retailing at Sh230 because compounding with the drought, this time we did not produce as we should have because we did not support the farmers," said Ruto.

Food security

It its manifesto, Kenya Kwanza cited five pillars it would build on, with Agriculture and Food Security being number one. Ruto promised once they take power, they will pump in Sh8.8 billion to revitalise the dairy sector, an investment that would see the country produce enough milk to meet local demand and have surplus.

The manifesto also noted that three food commodities, edible oils, wheat and rice, are consuming a significant percentage of export earnings, yet the country has the capacity to produce a bigger share of its consumption of both edible oils and rice competitively.

Kenya Kwanza commits an investment of not less than Sh250 billion in financial years 2023 - 2027, arising from budget reorganization and restructuring, to be more pro-production oriented and reduce huge capital consuming infrastructural financing.

"The expenditure policies will also be reorganised to cut wastage and promote value for money," reads the manifesto.

Additionally, the coalition commits to provide adequate affordable working capital to farmers through better governed and revitalised cooperative societies, deploy modern agricultural risk management instruments that ensure farming is profitable and income is predictable through a well-defined Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) Scheme.

Extension support

It promised to transform two million poor farmers from food deficit to surplus producers through input finance and intensive agricultural extension support, with a target minimum productivity revenues per acre.

Importantly, Kenya Kwanza committed to raising productivity of key value food chains (maize, eight to 15bags per acre, dairy 2.5kg to 7.5kg per cow per day, beef carcass weight from 110kg to 150kg).

Also, reducing dependence on basic food imports by 30 per cent (domestic oil crops production from 5 per cent to 25 per cent, rice from 18 per cent to 40 per cent) through Government-supported programmes in cereal (rice and maize), oil crops (soya beans, sunflower and canola) and the pulses.

There are also plans to revamp underperforming and collapsed export agricultural products, expand emerging ones (coffee, cashew nuts, pyrethrum, avocado, cotton, macadamia nuts, fish, beef, and leather). Also, the coalition promised to revamp the tea value chain (blending and branding), leading to higher returns for farmers through improved efficiency and increase the supply of quality seeds, including hybrid and high-yielding varieties, with continued investment in research and technological adoption for all key agricultural value chains.

Kenya Kwanza believes that government cash transfers which stands at Sh12.5 billion annually, would be better spent supporting farmers to raise productivity so that farmers would not only able to feed themselves, but also generate a surplus that would contribute to national food security and the economy. Once he forms government, Ruto and his team face the task of steering the economy, deal with the growing debt burden, inflation that has breached the upper limit of the Central Bank's target range and high unemployment.

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