Since the announcement of the ‘Big Four Agenda’ last year, food security has been a major government priority. But public spending on agriculture does not reflect this, leaving smallholders, the majority producers of the country’s food, marginalised.
Kenya is a signatory to the Maputo Declaration of 2003 that encourages policymakers to allocate at least 10 per cent of national spending to agriculture and benchmarks a minimum of six per cent growth in annual agricultural output. Yet spending in the sector is well below these levels — and falling.
In June, a budget session at Parliament revealed that the spending in 2020 will be 3.2 per cent of the national budget, down from this year’s 3.5 per cent. The bulk of this is earmarked for gigantic irrigation projects to support large-scale farming, not smallholders.
This is worrying if the aim of the food security pillar is to encourage food sovereignty. For real gains in food security, give the agricultural sector significant investments and public support, focused on small-scale farmers in tandem with that on commercial.
Agricultural funding cannot be partisan. An effective route in disbursing these investments can be expanding the agricultural credit and microfinance options to farmers. Giving small-scale farmers credit to buy high-quality inputs such as hybrid seed and fertiliser will have a direct impact on food stocks.
Family farms provide an income for 70 per cent of rural households and are responsible for most of our food production. However, many of these families cannot afford these inputs due to the relatively high costs at the start of the planting season. Many farmers often default to saved seed or forego fertilisers, leading to lower yields and poorer harvests.
Credit for inputs allows farmers to produce more per acre, transitioning households previously farming for subsistence to selling harvest surplus for additional income, enabling them to make longer-term investments in their children’s education, on livestock, or in starting a business. Surplus output can also be added to national food stocks, supporting food security.
My organisation, which serves over 300,000 farmers in Kenya, has been tracking the impact of providing smallholders with inputs on credit. Our standard agricultural package includes quality seed and fertiliser on credit with flexible repayment terms. Typically, 97 per cent of clients repay on time, showing strong demand for quality farm products on credit.
On average, the farmers see an increase of over 50 per cent in their crop yields, allowing them to feed their families for an entire year and sell their surplus for additional income. Last year, they had 42 per cent higher incomes than their peers.
Interestingly, many farmers reinvest over a third of their profits in new businesses, mainly agriculture, producing even more to sell.
These results are only the tip of the iceberg for Kenyan agriculture and can be replicated at a national scale if more of our public spending was directed towards smallholders.
To ensure food security, their potential cannot be ignored. Instead, they must be the priority in future budgetary allocations within the sector.
Mr Maritim is a government relations and policy lead at One Acre Fund. [email protected]