Fixing agricultural productivity key to economic growth

One of the core promises of the Kenya Kwanza administration was that they would fix the structural problems plaguing the agricultural sector.. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The rains are finally here! As everyone acquaints themselves with safe water harvesting technology, it is important to remember that one of the core promises of the Kenya Kwanza administration was that they would fix the structural problems plaguing the agricultural sector. This included subsidizing inputs like fertiliser, providing extension services, improve infrastructure for irrigation, and streamlining access to domestic and foreign markets.

It is fair to say that the Ministry of Agriculture has so far not put its best foot forward. The Cabinet Secretary promised to lower the price of staples in months, only for him to go silent on the matter - suggesting that he announced the policy without prior thought, research, or planning. This is not a good sign.

People in authority who are not in the habit of sweating the details or taking Kenyans seriously when they make promises are the reason we continue to perform well below our collective potential.

Yet all is not lost. While the public is increasingly impatient with the administration's lack of bankable results in its first six months, the Kenya Kwanza administration still has a lot of honeymoon goodwill among Kenyans. And the one area where they can make a strong first impression is on the question of food - which as very clear and direct implications for the cost of living.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is important to reiterate that it will be impossible to experience economic takeoff without first fixing agriculture. A successful agricultural sector means cheaper food, cheaper labor, cheaper inputs for domestic agro-processing plants, and more exports. And perhaps most importantly, agriculture impacts all Kenyan households.

Those affected directly include the vast majority of our people that still rely on agriculture for their livelihood (over 60 per cent). Those who are not directly dependent on agriculture experience an indirect effect through food prices. What this means is that having a functional agricultural sector is great politics.

As far as the government policy posture goes, the administration stands to benefit from adopting a campaign method of sensitizing Kenyans about its intensions - perhaps by building a Green Revolution Movement. Doing so would ensure that everyone is on the same page about what is to be done, in addition to providing clear metrics of accountability for politicians and their subordinates in the bureaucracy.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University