Covid-19 crisis is prime time to think about agriculture

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agriculture

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inherent inequalities relating to accessing and securing priority attention when disasters strike.

The organised formal sectors, though they comprise only 40 per cent of the productive segments of the economy, have been comforted and reassured with a raft of emergency mitigation interventions impressively fast.

This apparent oversight is critically significant. The 2015/2016 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey produced the first ever “Basic Report on Well Being” that showed rural agriculture pulled the most Kenyans out of poverty between 2006 and 2016.

Poverty prevalence fell from a 36 per cent to 26 per cent with 10 million Kenyans escaping absolute poverty, 32 per cent of this credited to rising household incomes and employment generated by rural agriculture.

The Central Bank has rolled out a raft of mitigation measures to provide critical safety nets to cushion the formal economic sectors from the adverse impact of the brutal disruption of production by the virus.

These include lowering the Cash Reserve Ration to 4.25 per cent, from 5.25 per cent, immediately making available Sh35 billion additional liquidity to banks to support their struggling customers.

Other government interventions include immediate settlement of pending bills totalling Sh13 billion, Sh10 billion VAT refunds by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), reduction of income (corporation) tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent VAT from 16 per cent to 14 per cent.

REVIVE SCHEME

However, no comparative emergency interventions have been rolled out specifically targeting the informal sectors like small-scale agriculture.

It is not that the “un-organised” sectors do not exist or are not important or in need of emergency support; they suffer silently with no voice to articulate their plight loudly.

This category, for instance, features the small-scale food crop producers, whose planting cycles are synchronised with the school calendar. Whether it is cereals, eggs, vegetables or fruits, these farmers supply to the school system.

They were hit hard when schools and colleges were suddenly shut two months to the end of the first school term or semester.

Their plight was made worse by the travel bans that eviscerated the hotel industry market. But they had invested time, labour and other inputs to grow what they eventually did not sell.

How should they be supported so they are able to pick themselves up and continue with what they were doing before Covid-19 struck?

This concern also coincides with an ongoing debate about whether to revive the defunct Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) scheme that served Kenyan farmers for over 50 years before the Kanu regime ravaged it to death in the 1980s.

OIL FORTUNE

It revolved around guaranteeing farmers of a minimum rate of economic return of what they grow, especially in event of a weather, disease or market-related disasters.

This not only encouraged them to stay in the farm and continue growing food for the nation but critically save them from being reduced to paupers in event some disasters hit the crop before harvest or sale.

One of the most food-secure nations in Africa is South Africa, which grows enough for the nation and sufficient surpluses for export. It has been conducting agriculture censuses every decade since 1918.

Although the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation requires countries to conduct agriculture censuses every 10 years, Kenya is yet to adopt the practice and updated data of commercial agriculture (farming for profit) is hard to come by.

Providence has favoured Kenya with a huge unexpected windfall of savings from the rock-bottom petroleum and Crude Oil prices that should come in hardy in the present crisis.

A chunk of these savings should go to conducting the Agriculture Census to facilitate efficient planning for interventions in the sector going forward.

Mr Kamau is a governance and public administration expert. [email protected]

In Summary

  • One of the most food-secure nations in Africa is South Africa, which grows enough for the nation and sufficient surpluses for export.
  • Kenya is yet to adopt the practice and updated data of commercial agriculture (farming for profit) is hard to come by.