It’s not about the CS position, the Agriculture docket needs a complete overhaul
The locust invasion has not only caused havoc across the country but has also brought to an end Mwangi Kiunjuri’s career as the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, or is it a coincidence? The last two years of former CS Kiunjuri’s leadership at the ministry have seen the highest level of mismanagement of government agriculture programs and functions. From the mismanagement of the fertilizer subsidy program, NCPB procurement, fall armyworm, aflatoxin, smuggled milk, eggs, fish from China and now the locust invasion. Indeed, various stakeholders in the sector had openly called for the sacking of the CS, but the president did not pay any attention to these concerns. While Kiunjuri’s exit was long overdue, the agriculture sector is grappling with significant challenges that need more changes that definitely go beyond who is in charge of the ministry.
I would just remind us of a few key issues that need immediate action. The first one is the public extension service which is practically dead. It has now been replaced by private-led input marketing schemes in the guise of private extension. Farmers in the country have no choice but to rely on these “philanthropic” initiatives by agrochemical companies to get information on how to enhance their production and manage the day to day farming challenges. The result of this is a high cost of production as farmers end up always using expensive inputs in production promoted heavily by the multinationals that dominate the business. Some companies now give the inputs on credit where a farmer repays after harvest, plus interest of course! This is an indication that many farmers find it difficult to fund their farming activities which overly rely on costly external inputs.
Our policy and regulations do not sufficiently encourage a more sustainable approach to farming that would put farmers and farming communities in the driving seat. Farmers continue to lose control of the sector to big business. This control goes all the way from inputs of production, methods of farming to value addition and markets. The result of this change is that the revenue share for farmers continues to shrink as the other players reap big from the sweat of smallholders who work hard to produce and depend on their farms for an income.
Our agriculture policy fails to effectively speak to other related sectors such as health, education and trade. Being the mainstay of our economy, the disconnect of agriculture from other sectors is problematic. There continues to be no support for farmers to enhance their returns from cross-border trade hence exposing our farmers to unfair manipulation by private entities and brokers.
In addition, the nexus between nutrition and the agriculture sector has also not been fully developed in the country. Whereas there are joint working groups on nutrition between the ministries of health and agriculture, it is difficult to quantify their impact on the citizenry.
The problems of the agriculture sector did not start, and therefore will not end with former CS Kiunjuri. The president, as head of state, needs to make deliberate efforts to revive the sector. He needs to remember that he has food security as part of his Big 4 Agenda and that we all watching the legacy he will leave behind. May Article 43 of the constitution guide him. His citizens are tired. Throwing more money at tea, coffee, milk farmers can only go as far as the money allocated to the sugar sector for example. We all know how that turned out! What is needed is an overhaul of our agriculture policies and practices.
So while I join Kenyans and other stakeholders in the sector to bid goodbye to Kiunjuri I cannot help but worry that his exit does not signify a fresh start to the Ministry. I am concerned that the incoming CS – at least from his CV – might not bring to the ministry the much-needed solutions, starting with the current locust crisis.
It would have been great if the president had identified an experienced farmer or agriculture expert to head this important docket. The reshuffle was a great opportunity for the president to appoint someone who could professionally grasp the issues affecting the sector.
Hopefully, Peter Munya will surprise us. For instance, by reviving public extension to ensure that farmers have the right knowledge and access to solutions that are sustainable and pocket-friendly and protect them from exploitation by big business.
He could also support agroecological farming, a method that gives farmers control by reducing reliance on external inputs in production. It also improves rural food security by enhancing food diversity, zero-cost production and sovereignty.
If Munya can shift government thinking from industry-led solutions to smallholder farmer-focused policies, he will have started on the right note.
Emmanuel Atamba- Route to Food Ambassador.