Food is a basic need. No country can attain any meaningful development if its citizens are hungry. Whereas it has often been said that agriculture is the main stay of our economy, the policies in place towards its advancement indicate otherwise. The government for instance taxes agricultural inputs heavily as opposed to subsidizing them. We might be the only country in the world following that awkward path. This punitive policy makes agricultural products very expensive and uncompetitive both in the local and international markets. It is therefore sad to note that the country has been flooded with cheap food imports like eggs, potatoes, onions and maize, a trend that has impoverished farmers and drained our scarce foreign exchange.
Following the presentation of the 2019/2020 budget, experts in agriculture and agribusiness have identified serious loopholes that make the political prominence and commitment that food security has been given under the Big Four Agenda a far cry. To start with, the country continues to fall short on the commitment made in the Maputo Declaration – spending 10% of its budget on agriculture. In addition, budgetary allocations that would support the constitutional obligation to progressively realize the right to food are not evident. As per the budget, allocations to agriculture are 2.53% of the total voted expenditure, down from 3.5% in the 2016/2017 financial year.
Moreover, the budget has few measures in place to directly address food and nutritional security. On the contrary, the principal policy focus is on large scale industrial agriculture, expanded irrigation as well as cash crops like coffee, sugar and cotton. The budget by the same token limited food security coverage to allocations on strategic food reserve and there was no mention about production of food crops as well as their affordability and availability (economic access).
Overall, according to the experts’ assessment, the budget statement was not responsive to the needs of Kenya’s smallholder farmers, who despite consistently producing over seventy per cent of the country’s food are hit the hardest by food security. The measures it identified lack focus on extension services as well as food security and diversity. They therefore undermine food and nutrition security.