Save the backbone of our economy

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By Antony Mutunga

“Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness” – Thomas Jefferson, 2nd Vice President and 3rd president of the United States

One of the oldest professions in the world, agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy. It is not only the leading contributor to the economy but also one of the leading sectors in creation of job opportunities. It is the largest economic activity in the country even though Kenya’s arable land is relatively small – less than 12% according to World Bank.

In an effort to increase the size the country’s arable area, government in 2013 put up a plan to irrigate one million acres of land in the country. However, owing to the dodgy nature of the project, including flying allegations of hoodwinking and mismanagement, some Kenyans feel the government is not doing enough to boost the agriculture sector.

Farmers, especially those who deal in small scale, are the most affected as profits seem to only be acquired by those who are doing large scale, who are able to get the necessary materials cheaply and in time. Even though the government allocated Sh25.6 billion in fertiliser subsidy, some farmers claim the fertilizer was sub-standard, has led to poor yields, thereby causing more harm than good.

Apart from this, the farmers are also having it rough by way of a market, which has been made difficult by different factors. Globally, Brexit is to blame for major losses in the sector in recent months.

With imported products increasing in the Kenyan market as well, it is killing off local products, as consumers tend to go for the imports as they have a higher quality and are cheaper. For example, fish farmers have been up and down as their profits diminish due to imported fish being more favourable to people in urban areas. The government needs to intervene and assist the farmers as due to lack of market their products mostly rot in their farm stores.

This has led to the emergence of middlemen whereby cartels have taken over hence charging high rates to be able to connect one to a ready market. This, in turn causes, the farmers to look for finances from corporations at an interest, further increasing their cost of production.

One Kirwa, a farmer, who attended the State House Agriculture Summit, asked the AFC to recalculate and reduce their interest rate on the money they lend out in order to help farmers like him access to the finances required to make quality products. But their biggest concern is modernisation.

Technology and youth
For example, farmers have expressed interest to start their own processing plant as the existing scarce processing plants have become expensive, with attendant high costs of production. Were the sector modernised, prices would be more favourable to small farmers, such that locally produced products would be able to compete with imported ones.

Technology is an added advantage in the agriculture sector as it is helping farmers around the world to produce high-quality yields. It is also an attraction to the youth as they would be motivated to join the sector if technology was a part of it. The youth, indeed other age segments, look to technology as a way of reducing costs and increasing yields.

According to reports from the State House Agriculture Summit, the average age of farmers in Kenya is 63 years, which goes to show that a large number of the youth do not participate in the sector, despite the fact that they make up the majority population segment in the country.

Agribusiness has done a lot to entice the youth to embrace and take up agriculture in numbers, but still the number of people taking up agriculture is low as more people are enticed by other sectors. Some, like real estate, have peaked recently in Kenya, and this has really hit agriculture as the available (arable) land is being turned to real estate further causing the sector and its future value to diminish.

Government needs to ensure projects like Galana Kulalu and the recent fertiliser plant project being constructed in Eldoret are done with the utmost efficiency, and are completed in the shortest time possible.

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