On 17 October 2012 the East African Standard and the Agricultural Sector Development Forum (ASDF), headed by the President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki, facilitated a round table discussion on food security and the engagement between government and the private sector in agriculture.
According to the Kenya Producers Coalition (KEPCO) over the decade after independence in 1963 10% of the government’s budget was spent on agriculture. By 2000/01 this had fallen to just 1.2%. However, by 2008/09 the situation had improved with budgetary allocations rising to 6.5%. Currently, the sector represents 25% of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs around 75% of the country’s population either directly or indirectly (i.e. food processing industries).
At an earlier talk on youth employment hosted by the World Bank and Africa Gathering, Su Kahumbu’s discussion focused on how large-scale farmers consistently produce for the export market while the small-scale subsistence farmers bear the weight of feeding the nation (her argument was geared towards getting youth into agriculture as a means of self employment). It would be interesting to hear from the round table discussions how the government intends to partner with the private sector in order to redress this imbalance and support subsistence farmers to be lifted out of poverty.
The panel in this instance comprised discussants from various sectors in Kenya including the private sector – Vimal Shah, Chief Executive Officer of BIDCO Group, a regional leader in the manufacture of edible oils and hygienic products; Dr James Mwangi, CEO and Managing Director of Equity Bank Limited, a leader and pioneer in offering low cost financial assistance to farmers in the country; and Patrick Kamugi, Managing Director of East Africa Maltings Limited, a subsidiary of East African Breweries. Panellists representing the government included the Lands Minister Dr. James Orengo and the Minister for Agriculture Dr Sally Kosgei, a prominent technocrat before venturing into politics in the 2007 general elections. The moderator for the discussion was Joe Ageyo, a prominent media personality and News Editor for the Nation Media Group.
The round table opened with the Lands Minister initiating a discussion around the recent consolidation of Kenya’s land laws into a single piece of legislation. Patrick Kamugi spoke about the breweries’ partnership with sorghum farmers stating that the East African Breweries are financing around 40,000 households in Kenya and Uganda as well as ten large-scale farmers in the production of sorghum. The purpose is to build a sustainable value chain in the beer making industry, while at the same time empowering locals through market entry for their produce. Dr Sally Kosgei talked about Kilimo Biashara, an agricultural credit guarantee scheme. The discussions then shifted from food security and agricultural policies towards land rights issues.
Vimal Shah discussed the lack of extension services (application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education) in the agricultural sector, emphasising that this was essential for sustainability. The Minister of Agriculture admitted that there was a shortage in extension officers, but unfortunately there was no discussion on how to address these capacity issues.
Vimal Shah put forward the suggestion (which was supported by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands, Dorothy Angote) of taxing people with small idle land, and that the cost of the tax should be equal to the amount gained if leased out, in essence forcing people to lease out their land. In theory, this could be a plausible approach – unused land would cease to exist and food security would be enhanced. However, there was no discussion about the potential negative impact this could have on poor land owners.
The aim of the discussions was to forge a collaborative path for government and the private sector in order to move subsistence farming onto an agribusiness platform for sustainability purposes. Instead of coming up with a framework that will assist small-scale farmers to be lifted out of poverty, the forum produced ‘solutions’ that would push them further into deprivation. It seemed to endorse an idea that would push these farmers and land owners further into poverty and would lead to a reliance on social protection measures such as cash transfers to meet basic needs such as food, the obtaining of fertiliser, seeds and credit facilities. In the discussion round up both the private sector and government representatives agreed that engaging in agriculture needs to be made an attractive option for youth, that credit facilities for small-scale and subsistence farmers need to be enhanced and that such forums are useful in driving forward overall food security objectives.
The discussions would have been more fruitful if they had addressed how agricultural and food security policy and financing could help lift the rural poor out of chronic poverty.
Steve Kenei is based in Development Initiatives’ Nairobi office and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
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