Why President Kenyatta’s focus on food security is timely and visionary

When President Uhuru Kenyatta laid out his development goals in the Big Four Agenda, he made sure to include the most important aspect of maintaining prosperity and stability: food security. While agriculture is the backbone of our economy, it is not always easy for Kenyan farmers to deliver when they face drought and irregular weather patterns brought on by global warming. But farmers are doing the best they can and getting support from the government to bring us healthy, nutritious and sustainable food.

At the 23rd Session of the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for Africa, which was held here in Nairobi recently, international experts discussed food safety and quality standards. We were the perfect host because of the importance and strength of our agricultural sector. Around three-quarters of Kenyans earn all or part of their living from agriculture, which accounts for one-third of the nation’s GDP.

Despite this, only about one-third of our land is suitable for farming, so that land needs to be utilised as efficiently as possible. Facing drought and unpredictable weather patterns, Uhuru has decided to tackle this head on by focusing on the sustainability of food production. In order to achieve this, there is a great need for increasing productivity – especially of smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of farms in Kenya – expanding market access internationally, as well as improving the quality of food products to ensure nutritional value.

If we are to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2030, policy that improves access to clean water and builds resilience of vulnerable people in rural communities must be supported by legal measures.

To this end, in August Uhuru signed two new bills into law that should improve the entire food production process. The Irrigation Law enables county governments to set up their own irrigation development units, tailor-made to the needs of each individual county. The Land Value Amendment eases the acquisition and access to land for public infrastructure initiatives. Both aim to facilitate efficient utilisation of land resources by streamlining management and regulation of irrigation systems.

Just over a month later, it is still too early to see tangible results. However, setting the entire process in motion was the first step to getting to where we want to be, and we must be patient while awaiting the benefits. Vision 2030 is named as such because some development projects take more than a decade to bear fruit. By outlining the separate roles of national and country governments, we can expect both bills to improve the efficiency of water use for irrigation in the coming months.

In the meantime, Uhuru has personally sent a delegation of almost 100 Kenyan students to Israel to learn about advanced agricultural methods during an intensive 11-month training program. The students will live in the Arava Desert and learn from Israeli experts how best to develop water resources, treat, recycle and reuse wastewater. They will gain the skills needed to implement efficient water use technologies and bring their knowledge back to Kenya to put systems in place.

The move was part of a behind-the-scenes attempt to enhance the food security aspect of the Big Four Agenda, because without water no crops will grow. Since, just like Israel, we do not have an abundance of water, this delegation of students is the key to bringing back the knowledge we need. Israeli agricultural technology has enabled a surplus of food for the country, and hopes are high that we will be able to do the same.

The fact that Uhuru personally sponsored them is a testament to his commitment to Kenya’s development. Uhuru is leading by example, and hopefully, this will cause more private sector investors to use their wealth for the good of the nation.

For public-private partnerships to work, there must be an atmosphere of trust in the nation. An investment team would be unwilling to risk its money if the returns do not seem promising.

However, due to the recent crackdowns on corruption, combined with the very clear commitment to achieving food security, the promises for investing in our development have never looked more rewarding. Right now Kenya is on a continuously upwards moving trajectory, and we are well on our way to modelling how the world will view Africa in the 21st century.

Mr Mugolla comments on topical issues; E-mail: bmugolla@gmail.com

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