KITALE, Kenya, Feb 14 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga says it is time farming in the country is professionalized and is urging the youth to take up agriculture as a serious commercial exercise.
At a time when the country is grappling with a food shortage and escalating food costs, Raila says it is unfortunate that the production of food, a crucial undertaking, is only associated with the aged and the retired.
"The Youth must be made to appreciate that farming is a profession like others and they can make a career out of it," said the Premier.
He was speaking in Endebess, Kwanza where he launched Phase II of the agribusiness project which is being sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme and the Italian government.
The development partners have contributed an additional 48 tractors to the government for hire to farmers at subsidized rates of Sh1,800 shillings instead of the Sh2,500 charged by private tractor owners.
Phase I of the project was launched in 2005 with 50 tractors being handed over to the Agricultural Development Corporation, the project implementing agency.
The Premier promised a radical change in the country\’s food policies saying poor agricultural practices adopted since independence are to blame for local food shortages.
He said the country had a huge potential for food production but poor policies adopted by successive governments has frustrated the country\’s ability to be able to feed herself and has to frequently rely on importation of food.
Mr Odinga criticized those calling for the establishment of a second bulk grain handling facility in Mombasa, saying the capacity of the current facility was not the cause of food shortages in the country.
"Kenyan farmers must be encouraged to produce enough food for home consumption and extra for export," he said.
Mr Odinga said there was need to protect Kenyan farmers from external factors that contribute to poor food production. He said subsidies should be introduced especially in farm inputs to encourage growth of the sector.
The Premier said the budget for the ministry of Agriculture will be doubled in the next financial year to enable it fulfil its mandate adequately.
Also at the function, the Minister for agriculture William Ruto announced that the cost of DAP fertilizer will come down before the start of this year\’s planting season.
"Farmers will be able to purchase fertiliser at Sh2,500 from a high of Sh6,000 to enable them plant more food crops this planting season," he said.
Mr Ruto attributed the current food shortage to post election violence in which 3.5 million bags of maize was lost.
Noting that the current food crisis in the country should not be politicized, he said Kenyans should forget last year\’s events and embark on food production.