For the country to realize its goal of food security as espoused in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda, assess the status of research in agriculture and its contribution to improving production in the sector and economy in general and prioritize enactment of the consolidated agricultural reform legal framework that sets out partnership between the National and County Governments.
In the Big Four Agenda, the government has allocated several billions to enhance food security and nutrition to all Kenyans by 2022 and to support value addition and raise the manufacturing products to 15 per cent. We must move from rhetoric to practical actions by the Executive and the Legislature and purpose to overhaul operations in the sector with research-based interventions.
Currently, services and institutions in the agricultural sector are scattered all over National and County Governments, poorly funded and dependent on very traditional production systems, lack support from research/academic institutions and new knowledge thus do not support the country’s aspirations.
Our universities have largely remained teaching institutions rather than evidence and research/knowledge production centers that can inform interventions in the sector. Research bodies in the agricultural sector are no longer producing scientific data to support projects in the sector, which has resulted in huge wastage.
Agriculture currently contributes about 31.3pc of the GDP in 2016 and 27pc through linkages with manufacturing and services related sectors according to the economic survey 2017. Agriculture in Kenya is dominated by small holder farmers who contribute about 80pc of agricultural production mainly subsistence, rain-fed with low mechanization levels.
With agriculture being a devolved function and research in the sector abandoned, very little can be achieved as the sector is disjointed and lacks an environment that will allow maximum productivity as demanded by President Kenyatta. Among the Big Four Agenda is food security focusing on increasing production, processing, value addition and agribusiness – through focus on agriculture value chain approach on priority crops, livestock and fisheries commodities while at the same time enabling the manufacturing pillar.
In respecting Article 43 of the Kenya Constitution that provides that every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality, the government intends to focus on transforming current agriculture activities to commercial driven agriculture and agribusiness as the main areas.
Recently during a session on food security during the annual media summit in Nairobi, the Principal Secretary in the ministry of Agriculture Prof Hamadi Boga and the Woman Representative for Migori County Dr Pamela Awour noted that the country will not achieve this goal if things will continue being done as business as usual. We must move to the production system that seen agriculture as a scientific endeavor that must be well resources, regulated, supported academically and the country marketed as a both a source of high quality agricultural products, a destination for high quality and affordable farm inputs with an efficient value chain structure.
In addition to a new legal framework in the sector that strengthens research and knowledge partnership with counties and position universities from teaching to research in the sector, the country needs to carry out research on practical interventions on fertilizer cost reduction initiatives, setting up of livestock diseases free zones in ASALs and the development of a land registration and land use master plan.
The conditions for enabling the country achieve this are ripe in Kenya including glaring political good will to support the big four agenda, underutilized agricultural land, availability of local and international markets for the products thus enhanced income for farming communities and favorable weather/climatic conditions in most parts of the country.
Challenges currently experienced in the sector and which must be addressed include frequent droughts in parts of the country, high costs of domestic food production due to high costs of inputs especially fertilizers and farming equipment, rural-urban migration of young energetic population, low purchasing power for large proportions of the population due to high poverty levels, lack of incentives and lack of diversified agricultural activities.
Government says once the legal environment is secured, it will approach the big four agenda item on food security through focusing on crops-maize, potatoes, rice, cotton, sugar sorghum, cassava, millet, Livestock-dairy, beef, poultry, goats, sheep and leather, fisheries through aquaculture and capture fisheries, putting more land under crop, intensify of production systems, commercialize production systems, mechanize and, agro business and irrigation farming.
(Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya (firstname.lastname@example.org)