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Failure to focus on agriculture faulted

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 13 – The government has come under heavy criticism over its failure to scale up budget allocation to the agricultural sector at a time when the country is facing a looming food shortage due to drought.

Cereal Growers Association Chief Executive Officer David Nyameino argued that the government should be investing heavily in irrigation and construction of dams, which would go a long way in ensuring food security.

"It is a pity that we cannot focus on agriculture. It is a shame that right now people are dying and we are reducing the budget and putting money in unnecessary budgets. We need to wake up and start investing in agriculture because nobody will feed our people," he said.

In its estimates contained in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework Report, the government intends to spend Sh26.9 billion in agriculture against a requirement of Sh42 billion.

Despite being a major contributor to the economy accounting for about 25 percent of the GDP, allocation to the sector has not been consistent over the years.

As a share of the national budget, the overall sector budget has declined in the last few years. For instance, in 2008/09, the allocation stood at 4.3 percent but dropped to 2.89 per cent in 2009/10 which is way below the 10 percent spending that was agreed upon by African states in the Maputo Declaration of 2003.

Despite the budget constraints, the sector rebounded last year after a few years of negative growth.

However, its prospects and by extension those of the economy are threatened by the projected La Nina, a phenomenon that experts say call for more focus in irrigation to reduce over reliance on rain-fed agriculture.

As such provision of dams in Arid and Semi Arid areas would be critical to enable such households to have a source of water and food that can to help lessen the impact of drought on Kenyans.

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Mr Nyameino further called on the government to fast track the off-take program that would see it purchase cattle at the risk of dying in drought stricken areas for processing into corned beef.

However, as a long term intervention measure to ensure food security, Agriculture expert Steve Collins argued for the move to harmonised trade in East Africa that would see cereals move freely within the region.

"We should not be closing the borders when there\’s a food shortage in any of the neighbouring countries. Instead, we need to work on harmonised regional policies that would for example see Kenya being able to access maize from Tanzania. There is enough maize from South Africa to Ethiopia feed every single person in the continent," Mr Collins said.

The two spoke on the sidelines of the release of report that showed the prevalence of aflatoxins contamination in maize in the country.

To help deal with the issue, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in conjunction with organisations such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)and the International Food Policy Research Institute have launch an initiative that will rope in all stakeholders in the value chain as well as increase awareness to farmers across the country.

"We have agronomic packages that we recommend to farmers every year. However some farmers do not get this information and so we are going to have programs to sensitise and build farmers\’ capacity and ensure that they get information that will help them detect aflatoxin levels in their crops, "said KARI Director Dr Ephraim Mukisira.

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