Kenya trails neighbours in agriculture

September 19, 2012
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The country’s development blueprint Vision 2030 has agriculture as one of the six priority sectors that need to be developed to move the economy up the value chain/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 19 – Kenya has a long way to go before it establishes itself as an agriculture powerhouse in the region, despite its dominance of the world’s tea industry, Permanent Secretary Romano Kiomo has admitted.

The country’s development blueprint Vision 2030 has agriculture as one of the six priority sectors that need to be developed to move the economy up the value chain.

Kenya is a net importer of key essential commodities bringing in 60 percent of our wheat requirement and 50 percent of our rice demand, yet the country has an overabundance of milk exporting over 20 million liters.

This paradoxical situation, Agriculture Permanent Secretary Romano Kiome says, is caused by poor structures including substandard irrigation, lack of mechanisation, under utilisation of land and non-existent post-harvest handling mechanisms.

“Out of the over 1.5 million arable acres we have only irrigated 300,000. In terms of fertiliser consumption, while the rest of the world is at about 200 kilograms per hectare we are still at 20 kilograms,” he said.

When it comes to mechanisation Kenya fairs even worse with a tractor available for every 50,000 farmers compared to the global average of a tractor for every five farmers.

Kiome was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Agribusiness for Africa’s Prosperity Book.

Though Kenya’s agricultural situation seems dire, it can be replicated throughout Africa, with the Continent yet to fully exploit its farming potential.

Accounting for 60 percent of the world’s arable uncultivated land, Africa is still to realize a green revolution where it can be food sufficient.

“Out of the over 1.5 million arable acres we have only irrigated 300,000. In terms of fertiliser consumption, while the rest of the world is at about 200 kilograms per hectare we are still at 20 kilograms,” he said.

According to the UNIDO report, the share of agribusiness in African GDP is very low.

In terms of scale, World Bank data from 2009 shows the stark difference between sub-Saharan Africa’s agribusiness GDP ($67 billion) and that of emerging markets.

Thailand ($68 billion), for instance, matched the agribusiness GDP of the entire sub-Saharan region, while that of Brazil ($236 billion) is nearly four times the African total.

Kenya’s agribusiness GDP is valued at $2.4 billion, trailing South Africa ($14.9 billion), Nigeria ($5.7 billion), Ivory Coast ($3.1 billion), Ethiopia ($2.9 billion) and Uganda ($2.7 billion).

Getting Africa on an Agribusiness path has been a major concern for experts, with the continent’s population projected to hit the 2.1 billion mark by 2050 and food and energy costs to continue climbing, having already been on the rise over the last five years.

In order for the continent to be successful in agribusiness it would need to upgrade its value chains by implementing efficient post-harvest policies to technologies in processing, storage, packaging, transport, marketing and distribution.

“About 70 percent of manufactured value added commodities account for the world’s trade, which means if we do not add value to our commodities and export those commodities it is bad trade,” said Patrick Kormawa UNIDO Representative and Director Regional Office in Nigeria.

Food, beverages and tobacco account for 90 percent of total agro-industry value added in Kenya, while overall 38 percent of agricultural commodities in Africa are value added.

The Ministry of Agriculture is gearing up for its next medium term plan, which Kiome says seeks to ease farmers into more contemporary, modern agriculture which he hopes will attract and absorb the country’s mushrooming youth population.

Moving forward the report highlighted the need for Africa to incorporated more technology, spur more financing to smallholder farmers, engage the private sector, maximize on local, regional and international demand and improve infrastructure and energy access.

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