Kenya has been an agricultural country and has relied much on farming to build its economy. However, it is unfortunate that the recently launched Economic Survey shows that there was a decline in the sector’s contribution to the economy last year. This is a reason to worry for each and every Kenyan that the greatest contributor to the economy is not performing as well as it should. This puts not only the country’s economy at risk but also threatens Kenya’s food security, thus threatening the lives of many Kenyans. Some experts have said that the performance may be lower this year due to drought and increased cost of farm inputs. Lack of growing markets is another issue that is worrying those in farming.
It calls for a national dialogue on what strategies we need to employ to ensure that agriculture grows and continues to contribute as it should to the economy. These strategies must capture the aspirations of all Kenyans, especially the large population of young people who think farming is shady. Kenya has about 20 per cent of arable land but currently on eight per cent of the country’s land is being used for agriculture production. More land can be put under irrigation and the country can invest more in greenhouses. Agriculture has the potential to not only grow the economy but also create a large number of jobs than any other sector. Putting more arable land into useful food production will help the country import less and save Kenya unnecessary expenses. Young Kenyans need to be more creative especially with the scarcity of white-collar jobs. Agri-business has great opportunities that can help millions of young people, especially with the Jubilee government having promised to enhance agriculture as a way of creating jobs and ensuring food security in the country. The Jubilee manifesto also promises that the government will initiate and support a county level framework for value addition through the processing of livestock and agricultural products at source to maximise returns to farmers. With the plan to double and diversify our national strategic food reserves from the current 22 per cent to 40 per cent of annual consumption, youthful entrepreneurs can move into the agricultural sector. This will not only help them create jobs but they will also take part in development of the country.
The government must facilitate deeper alignment on agri-business development. So much of our population in Kenya is reliant on agriculture and we need to ask what the government can do to streamline our agriculture industry, improve efficiency and create linkages to markets. If a Kenyan farmer wants to export tomatoes to the US, the government can facilitate access to the best extension services, seeds and inputs. Enhanced extension services and technology platforms can contribute to this effort by providing analysis and information about the best seed varieties for different environments, which inputs are required, where farmers will earn the best market prices and the best routes to market — improving the whole value chain of activities contributing to a more productive agriculture sector. We must also realise that despite its growth and development from independence, occasioned by increased farm productivity, engagement of over 70 per cent of the rural populace, and being responsible for 18 per cent of all employment, over 65 per cent of foreign exchange earnings, agriculture remains shunned by many. Many Kenyans especially in rural areas already own small farms meaning that with only a little support and favorable legislative and policy environments, they will be able to produce enough for their families and for sale.