On December 12, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his Jamhuri Day celebrations speech, identified four key priority areas his last term in office would focus on. They were christened the Big Four Agenda, and were Universal Health Care (UHC), Affordable Housing, Manufacturing and Food Security.
A lot of attention seems to be on the first two as the pilot phase of the UHC has already been rolled out in Isiolo, Machakos, Nyeri and Kisumu counties. The Affordable Housing pillar has been challenged in court. The manufacturing pillar has received lukewarm support.
However, little is being said about the Food Security pillar. We cannot talk of food security and nutrition without talking of agriculture. This should be the most important pillar. Agriculture contributes 51 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, over 70 per cent of Kenya’s rural population depends on agriculture for livelihood while it employs over 40 per cent of the total population. The sector is the principal driver in the manufacturing sector like in beer brewing companies, milk processing plants and flour millers. Already 15,000 small-scale farmers are benefitting in Western Kenya by growing sorghum, which is an essential raw material for keg beer production by East African Breweries. Countrywide, the company has contracted over 50,000 farmers.
Growth in the agricultural sector has been proved to be over 10 times more effective in reducing poverty. Agriculture could play a more and impactful role if it is given the necessary attention.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2018), Kenya is a net food importer with one out of three Kenyans suffering from food insecurity and over half of the country’s poor spending 50 to 70 per cent of their total income on food. Even in rural areas, 57 per cent of food consumed is purchased. Almost 30 per cent of the children in the country face stunted growth. A healthy population will also have a positive ripple effect on the economy. Investment in agriculture will also ensure households are food sufficient and the savings could be used to educate children or invest in better housing. The surplus food can also be sold, thus providing a source of income.
Agriculture touches on the other three pillars of the Big Four since over 70 per cent of the rural poor depend on it for their livelihoods; proper investment in the sector will ensure that the inequality gap is bridged. For these reasons, the sector should top as it is the surest way out of poverty for poor rural households which form the majority of the population.
SAMUEL NDUNG'U WAIRIMU, Murang'a.