Friday, June 11, 2010

KENYA: Delayed plans stifle farming growth

By George Omondi - Friday, June 11 2010

Experts are asking the government to increase the budget for agriculture and ensure proposals to improve the sector are implemented if it was to be crucial to the economic blueprint Vision 2030.

The sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been waning over the last four decades, raising queries over its ability to support the plan eyeing the middle-income economy goal.

“Agriculture is simply starved of resources, and hence the investments, it requires to grow,” says Adrian Mukhebi, the chairman of the Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange
In the last two years, prolonged drought has caused a combined decline of 7.5 per cent, subjecting many people to unemployment, food insecurity and inflation.

“While most emerging economies have invested in their export production, Kenya has seen its traditional agriculture exports, mainly coffee and tea, stagnate as a result of weak governance in marketing institu­tions,” the World Bank Group says in its June economic update for the country

The sector’s waning importance is in sharp contrast to annual growth of between seven and eight per cent for midterm and 10 per cent in the long term that the blueprint drafters had envisaged for the sector to remain relevant.

The government has attributed the sector’s sluggishness to unfavourable weather, displacement of farmers in the post election violence and falling acreage under crop production.

Analysts say the sector that supports a quarter of the economy can reinvent its wheel if the government improves in absorbing annual budgetary allocations.

“However generous the national budget is to agriculture, it is the rate at which the proposals are implemented at the end of the fiscal year that makes the difference,” said Lydia Ndirangu, a senior research analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra).

The Public Expenditure Review 2010 blames the sector’s low budget execution rate to weak monitoring and evaluation system.

Within the sector, livestock and fisheries departments come out as the worst implementers of the annual budgetary proposals.

For instance, livestock department which has secured a Sh4 billion from African Development Bank to implement its Vision 2030 project of establishing five disease-free zones says it might not achieve this target soon.

“The long porous Somali border, unrestricted movement of pastoralists during droughts and the preference by ranch owners to maintain conservancies where wild animals coexist with domestic ones are some of the reason the idea of disease-free zones may not be realised as envisaged,” says Dr Mohammed Kuti, the livestock minister.

Keen attention

Over the last two years, the government has stepped up its bid to rev up irrigation potential, promote commercialisation of agriculture and support policy reforms, but the efforts have suffered funding challenge.

Christine Cornelius, World Bank’s agriculture co-ordinator for Eastern and Horn of Africa, says policy makers need to pay keen attention to devolved structures of the proposed new constitution.

“It is important that stakeholders have a clear picture of how the next constitutional dispensation is going to affect the flow of funds,” she said.