Africa: For a Hungry Continent, Africa Does Poorly on Agriculture

Virtually all African countries boldly claim that agricultural transformation is at the top of their economic growth agenda because of the central place the sector occupies in the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans. The stated commitment is so solemnly declared governments have signed binding protocols to give force to those national declarations.

One of the more prominent ones is the Maputo Declaration of 2003, whose standout requirement is that African governments commit to invest at least 10 per cent of their national budgets in agriculture if the sector’s huge potential was to rapidly transform and drive economic growth. The Malabo Agreement of 2014 signed in the capital city of Equatorial Guinea underscored the Maputo commitment and expanded other areas that needed reforms for agriculture to play its transformative role.

Most African countries will this year be reviewing, for the third time, their performance against the Malabo agreement and indications are that almost all will fail the test. Kenya certainly will fail.

It is no comfort that it is not alone.

In the 2019 biennial review, all the countries in the eastern part of Africa were not on track to meet any of the targets clustered around seven thematic areas; including enhancing investment finance in agriculture (to at least 10 per cent of annual budgets); ending Hunger in Africa by 2025; reducing poverty by half by 2025, through inclusive agricultural growth and transformation; boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services; enhancing resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate variability and other related risks; and strengthening mutual accountability to actions and results.

The Eastern Africa region was not on track to meeting any of these targets in 2019. In all likelihood, the situation will be even worse this year because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted economies so fundamentally many countries are not even on the recovery path yet. Hundreds of millions of people that were food secure in early 2020 were sleeping hungry at the end of the year.

This reality is even more poignant for Kenya because food security is a key success factor in the Vision 2030 development blueprint and is a specific legacy agenda for President Uhuru Kenyatta, who leaves office at the end of 2022. Given the short period to 2025, the country is unlikely to achieve the objective of ending hunger by that date either, and it will be a real struggle for it to do so by 2030, unless the government’s record of policy implementation radically changes.

Allocate more resources

As a start, agriculture must be allocated more resources. Despite contributing close to 35 per cent to the country’s GDP last year, the Agriculture ministry was allocated a paltry 3.2 per cent of the Sh3.6 trillion budget in 2021. This is way off the 10 per cent Kenya has committed to internationally. This is money that the ministry has to allocate to the many initiatives and programmes necessary to encourage farmers to produce more for food and to sell.

Agricultural sector reforms must be directed at improving the lot of the smallholder farmers, who dominate the sector. Deliberate efforts must be directed at helping farmers harvest more potatoes, maize, beans, cassava, nuts, etc. Livestock farming in arid and semi-arid lands must be improved. Growing of onions and tomatoes must be encouraged and wastage during harvests reduced. Aquaculture has the potential to transform the lives of communities living near water masses (and even beyond) but there is a significant gap between policy and implementation.

President Kenyatta will vacate office before securing Kenyans against hunger partly because of low investments in agriculture and not effectively managing the destabilising effects of climate change, and building the resilience required to protect the food value chain against shocks like periodic army worm attacks, droughts, floods, etc.

Regrettably, those jostling to succeed the President do not inspire much confidence that they will change things. The frontrunner is the estranged deputy of President Kenyatta and hence shares the failure of this government. The other has served in different senior capacities, including being a prime minister, and has not in the past demonstrated the capacity to impose his will to consistently execute policy.

Their political rhetoric, even in these early days, lacks the conviction that they will shake the system and execute differently. Kenyans must find a way of forcing the agricultural agenda on the platforms of these people.

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