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Comment: Ministry should save stalled projects, step up oversight

Friday March 25 2016

Investment in milk cooling plants is a relief

Investment in milk cooling plants is a relief to dairy farmers. PHOTO|FILE 

JULIUS SIGEI
By JULIUS SIGEI
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The government’s agriculture scorecard paints a rather rosy picture and a comforting feeling that so much is going on in the far-flung villages of our country to put money into farmer’s pockets and finally feed our nation.

Certainly, this is a critical docket which if re-engineered and everything works as said on paper, can deliver huge dividends to the farming community, those along the value chain and the economy as a whole.

The fertiliser subsidy programme, in particular, is heartwarming, and so is the move to streamline the logistics using a mobile phone app to ensure farmers who need the inputs most access it. The E-Voucher System has worked in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. The system eliminates corruption and brings the fertiliser that would have otherwise been fraudulently diverted to middlemen to more farmers.

From Israel and other shining examples of agricultural oases, reliable water is the single most important ingredient that stands between farmers and high food productivity.

Monument failure

Yet in its report, the Ministry of Agriculture merely mentions the rehabilitation of nine irrigation schemes, in all covering 2,846 hectares, a drop in the sea of the millions of hectares that need water.

The Jubilee scorecard also steers clear of the multi-billion Galana-Kulalu project, which had been billed as the game-changer in Kenya’s agriculture.

Having consumed Sh14 billion and yielded a measly harvest, the ‘model farm’ is a monument of failure. As in every sector of development, corruption has, once again, stood in the way of Kenya’s transformation in Galana.

With the sealing of corruption loopholes, the way to go is to have many mini-Galana’s across the country designed and properly managed to produce various crops for the local trade and export.

Misplaced priorities' in agriculture

The move to upscale semen production, increasing access and reducing prices is laudable as it has been felt in many parts of the country.

What the report doesn’t say, of course, is that much of agricultural activity is now a devolved function, and that much that is going on on the ground should be credited to counties. In the same vein, they should share blame for the many gaps and misplaced priorities.

One yawning gap is the beef sector, which has the potential to change the narrative of our food industry. For starters, our high potential agricultural land is only a tiny proportion, leaving large swathes to pastoralists who keep cattle, camels, goats and sheep, largely for subsistence.

It is saddening that our meat exports are dismal compared to our neighbours’ output. In 2014, for instance, Kenya exported 185,000 live animals compared to 1.94 million for Ethiopia and 4.6 million for Somalia.

Coastal farmer virtually on their own

Facilitating insurance in arid and semi-arid lands is only part of the solution. The answer is investing in fodder and water, and counties pooling together to build modern slaughter houses that also include tanneries for value addition. There is no excuse that more than half a century after we attained independence we still sell raw skins.

Even in the high potential areas, the cost of animal feeds is still prohibitive and the quality poor, which drives many farmers into huge losses.

Commercial hay producers deserve special concessions on farm inputs to satisfy the market with the quality and quantity of hay required to awaken this sleeping giant of a sector. In particular, it needs fertiliser and machinery subsidy to pull more farmers into this capital-intensive venture.

Access to extension services is also still woefully low. Farmers in many parts of the country such as the Coast region are virtually on their own, making dairy farming a bahati nasibu affair.

This is where counties must come in strongly by putting their money where their mouths are.

The writer is the features editor, Saturday Nation