We must produce more at home to tackle the challenges facing us

Workers fabricating parts at Auto Springs factory in Limuru, Kiambu County. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

The biggest challenges many Kenyans face are the high cost of living, poverty, disease, inequality and youth unemployment.

Others include insufficient transparency and accountability, climate change, continued weak private sector investment and stagnated economic growth due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are also suffering because of limited fiscal and external buffers and tight financial conditions. The shilling continues to weaken making imports, we cannot do without, expensive. These include agricultural equipment, medical supplies, equipment, spare parts and essential goods that we should by now be manufacturing locally.

It is a welcome statement from President William Ruto that we shall soon be manufacturing a number of essential goods including assembling motorcycles here.

Manufacturing will ensure sustainable development. For example, in areas where we locally produce items like solar batteries and automotive batteries (by ABM Kenya Limited), these goods are not only readily available and accessible, but are also affordable.

We need to produce more and import less. The government must strengthen our manufacturing capabilities and create a facilitative and enabling environment for manufacturers. It is gratifying to see young Kenyans in agriculture and related occupations.

This is likely to make us food secure sooner, and with more support and facilitation by government and private sector, we can turn our country into the region's food basket with enough produce for local consumption and export. Kenya will not develop and be self-sustaining without manufacturing. For this, we need energy, clean, renewable, and accessible energy for all.

Kenya is blessed with sun, wind, biogas and geothermal. We don't even have to depend on hydro-generated power because we are facing droughts and unpredictable rains due to climate change.

We therefore need to invest in natural sources of clean and renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal and make it cheaper and accessible to all. Although the previous government, following in the footsteps of President Kibaki provided many homes with electricity, many Kenyans are unable to afford high cost of electricity with many preferring to invest in solar although that is also expensive because the equipment is imported. The costs of electricity and water are becoming unsustainable.

To achieve food security and good nutrition for all we need to make agriculture trendy, viable, lucrative, and interesting. We also need more agricultural extension workers in the field and on-the-job training and demonstrations for farmers.

Most importantly, we need climate-smart farming awareness and marketing facilitation. The economic processing zones are a good idea when accessible and available to all. There should be a way in which counties producing more food should "export" to those not producing enough. I recall seeing a woman lamenting about her potatoes rotting on her farm while over 27 counties were facing starvation. Better coordination is required. We also need to diversify the foods we eat.

More Kenyans are growing for export, exotic fruits and vegetables like dragon fruit, pixies, different types of salads, and vegetables like bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage. Bok choy is said to be "a low-calorie, low-fat, and highly nutritious leafy green vegetable, high in vitamin C and potassium and providing a good source of calcium and iron."

Yet, many Kenyans have not caught on as sukuma wiki remains the staple for them. Although more people these days prefer spinach and traditional vegetables like kunde, mchicha/terere, manage, saget (spider flower).

Their intake is limited. As we contemplate how to deal with climate change and build resilience, we must seek ways of ensuring climate justice and good governance to help us end our perennial economic, social and political antagonism.

Our political elite, within and outside governance need to focus on how to get us out of high cost of living, poverty, disease, inequality, youth unemployment, insufficient transparency, climate change, continued weak private sector investment, and stagnated economic growth. These are the existential threats to our survival as a nation as we totter flaggingly towards 2030.