Budget crafters must be alive to the role of food security in national wellbeing
The Global Hunger Index ranks Kenya at position 86 out of 177 countries, meaning that the country is neither doing too well nor too badly in guaranteeing food and nutritional security for its citizens. However, there is no reason why it cannot improve its ranking – and fill the bellies of more of its 47 million people – if authorities and policy makers become more deliberate in their action to improve food security. As it is, about one in four Kenyans lack both food and nutritional security, posing a challenge to the well-being of the country and its citizens, particularly children considering that the full health and productivity impact on them will be felt in the next 20 to 30 years.
Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a net importer of food. Yet, as former African Union Commission Chairman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma once acknowledged, the continent has “enormous potential, not only to feed itself and eliminate hunger and food insecurity, but also to be a major player in global food markets.”
In one of the reports launched earlier in June 2020, McKinsey, an advisory firm, acknowledged that agriculture has a high potential to drive trade and create jobs. Indeed, according to the report, agriculture accounts for about 60 percent of the jobs created in Sub-Saharan Africa. By extension, income from agriculture related work has a direct impact on family spending, including on food, which accounts for half of household budgets in countries like Kenya.
Interestingly, Gillian Pais, Kartik Jayaram and Arand van Wamelen, the authors of the McKinsey report titled “Safeguarding Africa’s Food Systems Through and Beyond the Crisis”, note that “the impact on the food and agricultural system as a whole has largely been localised and muted”. I understand this to mean that for instance, regions that record bumper harvests have no way of making this felt beyond their locality. That is why in Kenya, it is possible for one region to harvest excess food – which then goes to waste due to poor post-harvest practices – while simultaneously, another region is experiencing both food and nutritional deficiency, including mass hunger.
Whereas only 10.2 percent of land in Kenya is considered arable, there are large swathes of this belt that remain either fallow or under-exploited, meaning that the country is not producing as much food as it ought to be. Secondly, the areas considered as unsuitable for crop production, particularly in the north of the country, are ideal for livestock keeping. As such they have the potential to supplement the country’s milk and protein diet were production to be incentivised.
Through the National Budget, we have a unique opportunity to address some of the challenges facing agriculture and food access for Kenyans– first by outlining favorable taxation regimes and secondly by encouraging agro-processing by offering concessions for manufacturers in the agriculture sector. Thirdly, it can set aside allocations for enablers like irrigation and pest control to help mitigate against climate change and pestilences like locust and fall army worm invasions.
In the past, budgetary allocations to agriculture have been lumped together with rural and urban development. The combined figure looks big – and sufficient – but a closer analysis tells a different story. In the 2019-2020 financial year, for instance, these were allocated Sh50.7 billion. However, a granular examination reveals that only Sh19.6 billion actually went to support agriculture, with the highest amount by far – Sh7.9 billion – going to irrigation. Coffee was allocated Sh3.0 billion while national value chain support and issuance of title deeds were third highest with Sh2 billion each.
Incidentally, the granular amount allocated to agriculture in the current financial year – which ends June 30, 2020, was lower than what the sector was allocated the previous year, meaning that agriculture got less year-on-year despite the role it plays in contributing to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to feeding the nation for health and productivity.
In both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 financial years, agriculture contributed 34.1 percent of GDP, making it by far the most productive sector. It also injected Sh3 trillion into the economy in each of the two years. This was in addition to filling the bellies of the citizenry and the country’s workforce and guaranteeing food-related health outcomes.In the next financial year, i.e. 2020/21, food and nutritional security have been allocated Sh52 billion.
The political leadership as well as the policy makers at the Water and Irrigation, National Treasury and Agriculture ministries should be alive to the words of Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the CEO of the Nepad Agency. In 2014, Dr Mayaki said: “Our role as decision-makers is to provide the impetus needed to ensure that our farmers make their profession an economic activity that generates well-being in rural areas, and meets employment challenges and the expectations of our citizens, namely those relating to security, well-being and independence.”
Dr Mayaki correctly situated the role of food security in national construction by linking it to the three key pillars of nationhood. As has been demonstrated in countries like South Africa, where urban populations grew restless in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions, food and its availability have a direct impact on urban well-being and security. This is the connection that Budget crafters need to be alive to in good times as well as in bad. Even in times of crisis, agriculture is recognised as an essential service because it keeps markets open. In turn, this ensures that food systems and value chains continue functioning, meaning that food is available even in the worst of times and jobs in the value chain are protected, thus putting money in the pockets of the people.
Article by Mr. Mbugua who is the Managing Editor of the Business Daily and author of 21 books wrote this article. firstname.lastname@example.org