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Budget: Why Treasury got it wrong on funding agriculture

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Treasury CS Henry Rotich allocated agriculture Sh51.7 billion in the recently unveiled Sh3.02 trillion 2019/2020 budget. Alex Owino, a financial specialist at Route to Food Initiative, spoke to Anita Chepkoech on the agriculture budget allocation

The agriculture docket has Sh51.7 billion to run national projects for the next one year. What do you think of it?

The allocation to agriculture, food security and nutrition is grossly inadequate. It is approximately 2.9 per cent of the total expenditure, which is far below the 10 per cent commitment required in the Malabo declaration of 2014.

The government spending on agriculture over the years has been inadequate and poorly targeted, and cannot lead to the realisation of the right to food for all Kenyans.

We hope the counties will make the situation better by setting aside bigger chunks of their budgets towards agriculture.

How much would you say is enough for agriculture?

Let us first appreciate this background, that agriculture contributes 34 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, employs 56 to 70 per cent of labour force and generates 65 per cent of merchandise export goods.

A Sh300 billion allocation would be the ideal amount required to make meaningful and sustainable impact that will transform the country’s fortunes.

What are the implications of the inadequate financing?

Underfunding takes away the confidence of the private sector from investing in agriculture. If the government cannot put its funds into agriculture, the private sector also won’t.

It means there will be rise in food insecurity, prevalence of undernourishment, food prices will soar (access and affordability) and ultimately poor health and nutrition status of the population.

Already, 25 per cent of the population experiences chronic food insecurity, which means that more than 10 million people cannot access adequate food every day.

Is the spending on agriculture an improvement this year?

Not at all. Sadly, the allocation has been declining over the years, from 3.5 per cent in 2016 to the current 2.9 per cent, which is even a decrease from last year, despite the political prominence of food security under the Big Four Agenda.

Although there was an addition of Sh6.4 billion this year compared to 2018/2019 budget, it still sums up as a decline because the amount now caters for even land management and planning as well, unlike in the previous years.

It, therefore, makes it hard to believe that the government is taking agriculture seriously.

What are the positives in the budget?

There are positive programmes captured such as supporting the commercialisation of smallholder dairy subsector. We, however, call on the government to exercise vigilance in the use of funds to cater for the needs of farmers.

What should policymakers do to transform the sector?

Generally, budget policies tender to favour large-scale industrial farming. The government overlooks the role of smallholder farmers — a majority of whom are women — who produce more than 70 per cent of the food consumed locally.

From a consumer point of view, food is expensive, meaning many of us lack the financial muscle to eat diverse foods and sufficiently nutritious diet.

Food is also increasingly unsafe to eat. Food tests show pesticides residue levels above minimum accepted standards for human consumption.

The government should focus on ecological agriculture, which is a set of farming principles that protect soil, water and climate, promote biodiversity, and do not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs or genetic engineering.

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