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Ruto shifts focus to cereals

NAIROBI, May 2 – The government Friday announced that it would soon establish a Cereals Development Fund that would among other things finance research on soil fertility and crop varieties.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto said that the fund, in which the government would be injecting between Sh1 billion and Sh1.5 billion every year, would be set up as soon as the Cereals Amendment Act was reviewed.

He added that they would focus more on how to finance food production by researching on crops that have high yields, are disease resistant and have short maturity periods.

“We need to develop our research so as to address the constraints that farmers are currently facing,” the Minister posed.

He said this could only be achieved with innovative technologies, knowledge, and approaches that respond to demand and opportunities.

Ruto added that his ministry would double research funding to the Sugar Development Levy from the current 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the money collected from the sugar sector.

Noting that research, which is mainly funded by development partners reflects badly on the country, Ruto said there was a need for the country to develop its own research capacity so as to reduce dependency on the donors.

“Donor fund is not money you can rely on. We need to increase our own capacity and competence building that is important in making agriculture a profitable and commercial venture,” he expressed.

Pointing out that the sector makes significant contribution to the economy, Ruto said more efforts need to be directed at it if Kenya hopes to achieve objectives laid out in its economic blueprint Vision 2030.

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The plan seeks to transform the country into a middle-income state in the next 23 years.

Agriculture contributes 25 percent of the country’s GDP and with linkages to other sectors, adds another 27 percent to the economy.

“If we must change the course of our country’s destiny, we must change agriculture,” the Minister asserted.

He also said that increasing funding for research would have the multiplier effect of having more qualified personnel enrolled in the subject area.

Speaking when he visited the Kenya Agricultural Institute of Research (KARI) on Friday, Ruto said his ministry would push for reforms, research and innovations that would transform the agriculture sector into a commercially run industry.

Asked what the government was doing to address the looming food crisis in Lamu District in the Coast Province, Ruto said his ministry had prepared a sessional paper that would soon be tabled in Parliament to see whether the country could import some food items, such as rice.

He added that they are still assessing the level of the food shortage in various parts of the country against the capacity of stock piles, and would act accordingly.

“We should be able to make a decision to take appropriate measures in the next one month,” he promised.

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