Lately, attention has shifted to the President’s “big four” agenda which revolves around four key pillars: food security, affordable housing, universal health care and expansion of the manufacturing sector. Since last month, this column has been analyzing the “big four” plan and will continue to do so to critically offer unsolicited policy advice and suggestions on how best we can realize the set objectives in each pillar. Last month’s edition focused on “Lessons from the Asian Tigers for the ‘big four’ agenda” drawing key practices in manufacturing, food security, affordable housing and universal health care that propelled the famous Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan- to meteoric rise making them model economies for underdeveloped and developing countries.
To progress the ‘big four’ debate, this column is dedicated to the analysis of what, in my view, is the most important pillar of the big four – food security. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the 1996 World Food Summit adopted the following definition: “food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels (is achieved) when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The emphasis is on consumption, the demand side and the issues of access by vulnerable people to food. Without food security, there will be no people to live in low-cost houses, no people to be covered by the universal health care system and ultimately the manufacturing sector will be denied the much-needed raw materials and skilled-energetic employees to power the industries. In achieving food and nutritional security, the government aims at, among others, to put more than 70,000 acres of land under irrigation to deal with the perennial problem of over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture which as we all know has suffered erratic and unpredicted rainfall largely due to negative effects of global warming.
To attain food security, there are clear-cut measures and interventions that the government should come-up with. These include pro-agriculture land reforms, far-reaching agricultural extension services, infrastructure development in agricultural areas, offer subsidized farm inputs, agricultural equipment and machinery, scientific farming methods, and modern post-harvest storage facilities, among others.
To guarantee food security, there is need for land reforms to ensure that more land is put into arable farming and arid and semi-arid lands should be put under irrigation farming. Land is an emotive issue but there is need for public participation to address institutional and policy reforms. The ultimate objective being to discourage land sub-divisions and to promote land consolidation to cast the net wider, tap more land and expand more arable land that can be put under mechanization and commercial agricultural production for increased output. There is need to come up with strict land-use policy specifically targeting owners of large tracts of idle land. A tested policy intervention would be to impose punitive tax measures on owners of unutilized land. Emphasis on national and county level enforcement and compliance of such interventions must be strictly adhered to especially in areas known to be the breadbasket of our economy such as Narok, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Laikipia, Trans Nzoia, and Kakamega, among others.
There is also need to deal with the nexus between population, land and agricultural production. Population and land resources are key variables that have a great impact on food security. Malthusian theory sums it that population growth is potentially exponential while the growth of food supply is arithmetic at best and because of the existence of some fixed resource like land, there is a negative relationship from the size of population to food security. Population increase outpaces food production. Next year, we shall hold our national census and it is projected that population will hit over 51 million against the 38 million recorded in 2009.
There is also need to revitalize peasant farming currently undertaken by over three million people accounting for over 75 percent of the agricultural production. This can be done by offering affordable inputs such as fertilizer, agricultural equipment and machinery and to educate farmers on scientific farming methods, cultural change and preservation of harvested products.
Lastly, we need to embrace modern consumption habits to avoid overdependence on traditional staples like maize whose production fluctuates often and inversely to consumption. It is common to find that in a season of poor maize harvest and bumper harvest of crops such as cassava, rice, potatoes and beans, there is hunger and starvation because of preference for maize over rice, for instance. In 2012, former finance minister Hon. Robinson Githae urged Kenyans to eat rats to deal with hunger. The condemnation was loud but his was a call for Kenyans to diversify their diet in line with practices in other countries.
By ensuring the country is food secure, the President will join Brazil’s retired President Lula da Silva who lifted over 20 million Brazilians out of poverty in his eight-year reign through his anti-hunger and income transfer programmes.
By Benard Ayieko
The writer is an economist, consultant and a regional commentator on trade and investment based in Nairobi. [email protected]