Make sure you know, the second time around
Manifestos are the promises that political leaders make to their people concerning different sectors in the economy and the general lives of their citizens. In light of the long history and current urgent reality of food crises and chronic hunger, it’s critically important to interrogate promises made in the two leading NASA and Jubilee blueprints. Agriculture—and food security—is a critical part of the party manifestos, a sector that contributes approximately 27 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product, 40 per cent of the total government revenue, and 60 per cent of the country’s exports. Both leading political parties have taken food security seriously and have vowed to tackle the problem in different ways and strategies.
In tackling food security, Jubilee intends to further subsidize fertiliser cost to below KES 1,500 (approx. € 13), and implement projects that will reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture in arid and semi-arid areas by constructing 57 dams. They will support small-holder agricultural drip irrigation and work with the private sector to enhance commercial agricultural production on at least 1.2 million acres, besides increasing forest cover from 7 per cent to 10 per cent. The Jubilee Alliance Party has promised to partner with county governments to establish at least one agricultural produce market, which will provide a central outlet for agricultural produce where farmers can sell directly rather than through middlemen. This will also help to facilitate better post-harvest management of produce through enhanced food storage facilities, cold rooms and transport and distribution networks across the county. Further, not only has the party promised to create a food acquisition programme that will mandate the government to buy 50 per cent of its food requirements from smallholder farmers, but it also stipulated that they will broaden the strategic grain reserve to a strategic food reserve that includes foodstuffs such as sorghum, millet, milk, beans, peas, milk powder and canned beef.
On the other hand, NASA, through its Kenya Integrated Food Security plan, promises a number of measures that will ensure enhanced food availability, accessibility, utilisation, and vulnerability. Through this plan, the coalition aims at tripling food production and securing global markets. This will be achieved through intensive crop diversification, an integrated water management system that ensures enhanced productivity (since water for irrigation will be provided to small-scale producers by developing more sources, expansion of water pans, dams and reticulation systems), adoption of better technologies to repress pests and weeds, maximisation of production and storage, promotion of climate-smart agricultural systems and land use options. The plan proposes investment in agricultural research in pursuit of scientific knowledge to tackle emerging environmental problems in rural areas and an integrated soil nutrient management system to ensure balanced use of nutrients. The National Super Alliance promises to establish a national food security council to continuously advise government and keep the public informed of the state of food security, in order to offer a highly responsive early warning system. It will further support farmers by lowering the high cost of production through a reduction in taxes on farm inputs. Also outlined is a plan to build sustainable and integrated programmes that recognise critical roles played by pastoralists in meat production who require access to adequate and high-quality agricultural input, credit, irrigation equipment and services, and access to the output markets.
Youth are a critical vote bank in the Kenyan electoral process. In the Jubilee manifesto, it will interest the youth to learn that the party shall set up a free graduate internship program which will be a skills enhancement course following free primary and secondary education. From this, the youth stand to benefit from the internship program that will equip them with the necessary skills for entrepreneurship, particularly in agriculture: the country’s largest source of employment. On the other hand, NASA intends to create an enabling environment for the youth to be absorbed in the agricultural value chain from production, value addition, market linking, and further revamp the agricultural extension services to teach farmers on various aspects of smart agriculture – perhaps an area that will also present great opportunities for women. It also intends to establish a cooperative enterprise development fund that will be used in investing in agro-processing ventures jointly with farmers and young entrepreneurs organized under cooperative movements. Jubilee, on the other hand, promises to ensure that every young person seeking employment is identified by carrying out a continuous Ward, Constituency and County level registration process through Ajira Digital, a platform that will ensure that the youth are constantly connected to prospective employers.
The solution by both manifestos seems to be based on agricultural development policies that prioritize yields and productivity for a production-intensive export market. However, this debatable, as are a commensurate solution to food security given that food insecurity is not a question of production but largely a problem of access and affordability. A diverse group of people suffer chronic food insecurity, ranging from smallholder farmers to the urban poor, pastoralists and fishing communities. A solution that necessarily delivers on the constitutional right to food would be more befitting and meaningful to all citizens, irrespective of any category. In the end, that is what we should hold in mind not only when we walk into our polling station to vote, but also through the five years in a term when hold elected leaders to account.
By Booker Owuor. Booker supports the Route to Food initiative.
Image: Linet Moraa, Lubao Market Kakamega County. Photograph by Armstrong Too.