Reading Robert Bates, on begins to understand why the Tropical Equatorial Africa, despite being one of the most watered places on earth, remains food insufficient. One can also see why Vision 2030 economic blueprint is not the best idea.
That less than 17% of Kenya consists of arable land should not be cited as an excuse for the perennial food shortages we have become accustomed to. After all, typical deserts in a number of Middle East states are food sufficient; some are even renowned exporters of fresh fruit and vegetables. With massive populations in cold, windy and stony environments, Far East states have, on the other hand, farmed on leased foreign land to help them with their food supply. Why should Kenya be any different?
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There are two principle reasons: poor strategy and corruption. Let’s also throw in laziness. On strategy, Bates advices against funding growth with debt. He argues, “when a society is predominantly rural, the surplus necessary for industrialisation must come from the commercialisation of agriculture and the export of finished products as opposed to raw materials.”
While the Soviet Union alongside a host of 2nd generation developed states credit their growth to following this strategy, sub-Saharan Africa remains under developed having neglected what should be chief foreign exchange earner in agriculture to focus on infrastructure.
History is replete with examples. A growth boom the Ivory Coast enjoyed on independence soon proved to have been false when, saddled by a burden of external debt, the Félix Houphouët-Boigny regime was forced to re-consider her infrastructure ambitions. Nkrumah’s Ghana followed suit and by the time he left office, their combined cocoa production had fallen from a third of the total world output to less than a tenth, the latter totally reliant on subsidies from abroad.
Kenya is no different. At independence, recovered crown land was shared out to a handful of political elite who never developed it, leaving a large number of peasants, the original owners, landless. Public investment in State-run corporations that emphasised providing cheap services over making profits was consistently preferred over private ventures. Run by the unqualified friends of the ruling class, these entities degenerated to the fallen institutions we know today.
Those who thought that Vision 2030 would correct this wrong will be disappointed. Looking through it, one can’t help but notice that improving agriculture and food security are cited as results of ‒ and not precursors ‒ to investment in infrastructure commodities.
By paying farmers on time, paying them proper wages, privatising State agencies, tightening rules on importation and guaranteeing markets for farmers, resources should have then been focused on agriculture first. In the long term, government should not meddle with food prices to the disadvantage of farmers. In fact, it is farmers’ cost that ought to be subsidised, not consumers’.
Subsidising food and constantly bailing out malfunctioning agricultural corporations without clear long term strategic investment only discourages farmers and sinks the nation further into the hole of food insecurity. Not only would agricultural spending address food security by maximising agricultural exports, it would also provide core capital required to kick start initial industrialisation.
Then there is corruption and laziness. How many times has the nation been hit by drought that it now takes us by surprise? What has government done to stem the situation in light of numerous warnings from the meteorological department? 53 years after independence, is government’s only strategy year in year out declaring drought a natural disaster, “setting aside emergency relief funds to deal with the situation” and when this isn’t enough- which is often the case ‒ calling for contributions from wananchi? More disturbing is that, such monies set aside are often misappropriated.
We must cease the habit of reacting to situations, and begin anticipating and planning for them instead. It does not profit us to keep lamenting about the same situations when the cause-effects are the self same ones year in, year out.