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Experts warn the agriculture sector is severely under-funded despite being a key driver of economic growth

Posted on 10th Dec 2017 21:15:10 in

Crate with vegetables (Photo: Courtesy)

County governments are starving agriculture of funds, putting efforts to improve food security in the country in jeopardy.

On average, counties allocated a meagre six per cent to the sector in the past three years, with most of the money going to the recurrent budget, according to a recent study by Tegemeo Institute, an agriculture think tank of Egerton University.

Experts say the sector is severely under-funded despite being a key driver of economic growth, contributing 33 per cent to the gross domestic product in 2016, and that the low funding could impede job creation, poverty reduction, and raising levels of income.

“Although some sub-sectors within the agricultural sector such as horticulture, flowers, and dairy are dynamic and have expanded in the past 10 years, most others such as maize, wheat, and rice have performed poorly. Food security remains a challenge. This is the elephant in the room,” Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett told a conference on transforming agriculture for inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods in Nairobi.

The agriculture sector was devolved through the 2010 Constitution, leaving only policy formulation and capacity building to the national government. The county is expected to implement the policies, explore markets, and regulate operations in the sector.

The challenge of under-funding adds to shrinking land sizes, soil degradation, and climate change that have cut the productivity of crops, making it more difficult to feed the rising population, which is set to hit the 50 million mark in 2020, according to government estimates.

“There is a need to unbundle the functions in the sector, to clearly know what each level of government should do,” said Dr Timothy Njagi, policy analyst at Tegemeo Institute. See Also: Forget chemicals! Here are safe ways to ripen fruits

This should be backed by political goodwill to ensure that youth and women are included in the production and value-addition chain for the transformation of the sector to be sustainable, said Miltone Ayieko, the director of Tegemeo Institute.

The county officials, the experts, said divert budgeted funds for agriculture to other activities such as construction of rural roads and bridges to earn political mileage since they are more visible.

And with data on the quantities of food items produced in counties largely absent, the challenge is more daunting on policy makers at national level to come up with appropriate policies to ensure adequate food production in the country.

For example, some counties in western Kenya allocated only 1.3 per cent of their budget to agriculture, while another study by the institute indicated that farmers in these counties were unlikely to use fertilisers and modern technology compared to farmers in the central and eastern parts of the country.

Only Murang’a, Kiambu, and Kericho spent more money on agriculture than they had budgeted in their county integrated development plans. The others cut back on the funds they had intended to use on agriculture, which was attributed to political interference as counties sought to spread funds evenly through ward development funds managed by the members of county assemblies.

There is also great disparity in usage of fertiliser and adoption of new technologies between counties in western Kenya and those in the central and eastern regions and this has an impact on production levels.

“The experience by farmers in central and eastern Kenya with the use of fertilisers and modern technology, and levels of income, and accessibility (being near Nairobi) might be the reason for these regional differences” Mr Eric Njue, a researcher with the institute said.