Agriculture is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy, accounting for 34 per cent of gross national product.
It employs the bulk of the workforce — 60 per cent — directly or indirectly, hence a major source of livelihood.
However, in absolute terms, agricultural production is not expanding. Food scarcity has become common. It is estimated, for example, that 2.7 million people in arid and semi-arid lands live under perpetual food scarcity.
Not much is produced to feed the rapidly rising population and, similarly, the sector is not growing in a manner that would absorb high numbers of the unemployed.
The government’s new 10-year plan that seeks to revitalise and transform agriculture and secure 100 per cent food sufficiency is, therefore, a timely policy intervention.
Our concern, however, is that such policies are articulated every so often but never actualised. We challenge the government to act differently this time round and translate the vision and strategic thinking into reality.
It does not make sense to plan for 10 years when we cannot feed the citizens for even a year.
Essentially, the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (2019-2029) is premised on three interrelated anchors: Increase small-scale farmer, pastoralist and fisher-community incomes; raise agricultural productivity and value addition; and improve household resilience through diversification of farm inputs and better farming technologies.
Not that these are novel ideas; they have always formed part and parcel of our agriculture policy and practice.
The bulk of farmers are engaged in small-scale production and are, by their very nature, susceptible to the vagaries of climate and disadvantaged due to poor funding, small pieces of land, which militates against mechanisation, post-harvest losses due to inefficient storage systems, inability to access loans and of lack of market.
Similarly, pastoralists suffer due to harsh weather and, because of entrenched traditional practices, hardly cull their livestock. That often leads to massive losses when the animals are wiped out during the frequent food and pasture scarcity.
In the new plan, the government commits to expanding land under irrigation, conscious of the fact that, with the prevailing climatic conditions, relying on rain for agriculture is disastrous.
For several years in a row, the country and region have recorded depressed rainfall, necessitating a shift to irrigation.
New drug-resistant and lethal crop diseases have emerged. Threats such as the fall armyworm are increasingly ravaging farmlands and destroying crops. Inevitably, the game plan must change.
We must move beyond policies and ideas to actualising the plans.