President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 2 delivered his first keynote address since his re-election last year as provided for by Article 132 of the Constitution.
This particular address was unique in the sense that the President unleashed his ‘Big Four’ agenda that he plans to implement in his second and final term in office. It comprises manufacturing, universal healthcare, food security and affordable housing for all.
Food security has featured in most of the previous government plans and programmes but the desire to address food shortage, at least in the long term, has never been realised.
In his address to Parliament, the President proposed that in order to achieve food security, and in ensuring that those affected by a long drought were catered for, a Hunger Safety Net Programme would be the solution. The programme aims at transferring cash to vulnerable households in arid and semi-arid areas, giving them the choice of where and how to spend the stipend.
Certain challenges accompany such a programme, however, in that it creates a dependency cycle on the part of the beneficiaries and becomes a financial burden on the government, which is not sustainable.
The scheme is not only insufficient but also does not address the root causes of food insecurity. It blatantly ignores the productivity side of the agricultural systems and, in its place, offers a financial stipend to those considered vulnerable.
The ongoing disasters — the floods and droughts, which are as a consequence of the ever changing climate — present a challenge for the government to increase the tree cover, end illegal logging and invest in environmentally friendly ecological agricultural practices to avoid a recurrence.
Agriculture is a crucial sector of the economy and, in order to live up to the expectations of Kenyans, the food security agenda must be addressed in a more inclusive manner.
Fighting hunger and attaining a food-secure nation is a clear opportunity to create employment opportunities for farmers and the youth. Investing in strategic programmes that support sustainable agricultural practices is a viable requisite for rural transformation.
The smallholder farmers, who form 70 per cent of rural labour force, must, therefore, be the face of this transformation. They must not be left behind.
A devolved function, agriculture is one of the ties that bind both the national and county governments’ operations. By practising environmentally friendly ecological farming techniques, small-scale farmers could be supported to upscale their production and ensure the country is food-sufficient.
This can be achieved by allocating sufficient budgets to agriculture in arid and semi-arid counties.
The small-scale sector contributes 75 per cent of total agricultural production, reflecting the increasing importance of smallholder farmers in agricultural production. With the help of agriculture institutions and support organisations, there lies an opportunity to strategically identify the key crops that could potentially be suitable for production for both the local and international market.
This potential exists; it is just a matter of the key players identifying and exploiting them. With a country full of a youthful population, investing in the agricultural sector remains a viable option for creating sustainable jobs. This goes beyond production and ventures into creating innovative support systems, adding value to the produce and becoming a competitive agricultural producer in the market.
By offering training and technical support through the county extension service officers, these teams of well-organised farmer groups have the potential to feed this nation and have surpluses for the export market.
Mr Njehu is a senior political advisor, Greenpeace Africa. [email protected]