Posted on August, 7, 2019 at 11:08 am
By WALTER OWINO
The upheavals in the maize sector are exactly what sugar farmers have been subjected to over the years by those out to kill agriculture for their own profit. We must not allow this to happen. I believe all Kenyans know that agriculture, especially in the Rift Valley, is the backbone of the country’s economy.
However much we may say that we can look sideways and welcome the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as an alternative means of livelihood, their value for money cannot replace that of land. Land has been tested over time, mostly returning predictable results.
The events of the past few weeks, where the Agriculture ministry attempted to bypass farmers in favour of costly imports, are alarming. It was similar to the manufactured shortage of sugar anytime some people feel pressed for cash.
Kenyan farmers bear the brunt of government excesses that stifle the food sector. This is despite the push by the same government to attain a food secure nation under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four plan. With the events in the maize sector and the death of the sugar industry, one wonders what we will use to achieve food security.
In what has become a cyclic pattern of mistreatment, farmers start their year with bad fuel prices (studies show diesel is costlier in the first three months of the year); to the uncertainty of getting markets; to delays in fertiliser distribution (which at times is of poor quality when eventually released). All these are created to frustrate the food producers.
For how long will we turn a blind eye to these malpractices, which have a great impact on the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP – currently at 26 per cent, and 27 per cent in linkages to related sectors. As a representative of a farming constituency, this system must be changed, if we are to achieve any growth in the near future.
The vagaries of climate change have already taken their toll on agriculture, leaving farmers vulnerable to drought and unpredictable weather patterns. Instead of pushing for imports, I would propose concerted efforts to drive irrigation and other infrastructure investments to address our dependence on rain-fed farming.
For this to happen, those in charge of the sector have to adopt a strategy that works for both the farmer and the consumer – who equally suffer in the face of government excesses. This change must be people-centred.
Just as Strategic Reserve Fund boss Noah Wekesa said, we must get rid of the cartels who thrive on farmers' woes, not only in the maize and sugar industries, but in the entire agricultural sector, including tea and coffee. It is time to rebrand our farming economics for grand returns.
This step can begin at any point, but first by shaking the dust of policies such as Kenya’s Strategy for Revitalising Agriculture, which was launched in 2004; Agricultural Sector Development Strategy; National Horticulture Policy, 2012; Fisheries Policy, 2008; National Livestock Policy, 2008; Kenya Forest Policy, 2008; Cooperative Development Policy, 2008; Food and Nutrition Security Policy, 2011.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that the country’s population growth rate is already competing with the stretched space available for farming, and is expected to rise above the 39 million reported by KNBS in 2011. This shows that there must be concerted efforts to reverse the existential food crisis.
If other countries, some with worse weather conditions, have done it, so can we. The time is now.
Source: The Star