Speaking while, officially opening this year’s Agricultural Society of Kenya Mombasa International Show on Thursday, President Uhuru Kenyatta affirmed his government’s commitment to invest in agro-industrialisation. I would like to add my voice on the President’s sentiment that agriculture must play its role to make Kenya a newly-industrialized, middle income economy within a decade. As per the Kenya’s head of state the government allocated Sh45.6 billion to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries this financial year as part of its efforts to ensure a nutritionally-sufficient and food-secure country. The government has played its role. What is our role as citizens? Food sufficiency cannot come on a silver platter we all must play our role.
In the East African region, Kenya has the largest and the most diversified economy. The Kenyan economy heavily relies on agriculture as its backbone. Over 75% of Kenyan citizens depend on agriculture as their source of income. As per the World Bank farming accounts for 30% of added value on 4.6% Kenya’s Annual GDP growth. It is a fact that in this country agriculture remains the most essential economic activity, even though less than 8 percent of the land is used for food production. Farming in Kenya is typically carried out by small producers who usually cultivate no more than five acres using limited technology. These small farms, operated by about 3,000,000 farming families, account for 75% of total production. While agricultural productivity is stagnating, Kenya’s population is growing. This poses critical challenges to food security in the country. As per the World Bank statistics 45.9% of population lives below the national poverty line. It is a shame that in a country that was per with the tiger economies like Taiwan and South Korea 40 years ago people still sleep hungry due to lack of food. In Kenya many children suffer from malnutrition related diseases that eventually cause death. This can change if we encourage small-scale farmers, to grow more food and subsidize agricultural inputs as the president said.
To bring about the needed change in agriculture there is need to focus our energy more on developing and creating enabling environment for the rural Kenya to grow as the nature of the new growth in Kenya is one that is inclusive and opens up the rural economy. It would be unthinkable and counterproductive, to think of developing agriculture in Kenya by continuing to use the orthodox means of farming and low yielding agricultural paraphernalia.
Agriculture has unfortunately been seen to be tantamount with poverty. Without agricultural mechanization vision 2030 and food security and sufficiency will remain a mere plastic dream. In Kenya millions of hectares of arable land are presently not in use. Sad enough few hectares in use are poorly cultivated and not very tractorable. The poor level of mechanization confines the ability of farmers to develop cultivated areas, carry out timely land preparations and achieve economies of scale in increasing food production. Canada today is over-mechanized, USA is completely mechanized, but regretted that in African countries, including Kenya, and only 5% of farm labour is prepared using modern technology. Although Kenya, for a very long time, has not conducted a valid inventory of our farm equipment density, this may be less than 3 modern farming equipment to 1,000 hectares. With the renewed commitment of the present devolved system governance to end rampant importation of all kinds of food items and make the country self-sufficient in food will deepen and widen the driven agricultural mechanization efforts, strategies in partnership with local fabricators and manufacturer representatives. If certainly we want to realize vision 2030 which I doubt if we will ever achieve, we should aggressively commercialize and mechanize Kenya’s agriculture by introducing about 2,000 units of tractors and various kinds of harvesting and processing paraphernalia to mechanize our agri-business each year, while also enhancing Kenyan local content and capacity to sustain and advance mechanization to suit best practices worldwide.
Agriculture itself promotes and creates various off-farm activities such as transportation, industrialization, foreign exchange, research programs that look for better and improved methods to be applied in farming and livestock activities just to mention a few. If we fully mechanize agriculture it will save the country funds that would have rather been used in the importing of food from other countries this in turn has a positive effect on the country’s balance of payments and there is surplus money to invest in other areas of the economy such as social overheads; infrastructure, education.
Kenya can feed the rest of horn of Africa and the sub-Saharan region if we can truly invest in modern farming technologies. Kenyan soil has untapped potential. Just in case you didn’t know, Kenya is Africa’s leading tea producer, and was fourth in the world in 1999, behind tiger economies like India, China, and Sri Lanka. Black tea is Kenya’s leading agricultural foreign exchange earner. Our tea is better than that of China and other countries in terms of taste and nutrients. What went wrong? In 2001, tea exports were valued at 404.1 US million dollars, or approximately 18% of aggregate exports. Without forgetting did you know that Kenya is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pyrethrum? Let us wake up from stupor and make Kenya great again through agriculture mechanization.
Jared Oluoch Oundo is the Communication officer Vehicle and Equipment Leasing Limited (VAELL)