By Victor Mugo
With the unveiling of the government’s areas of focus for the next five years, the stakeholders in the agricultural landscape are elated with the identification of agriculture as a key driver to spur economic growth. Christened the ‘Big Four’ , the identified pillars that include food and nutritional security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare will be relied upon to create and sustain inclusive economic development. The government through this vision intends that the gains realised from the ‘big four’ will in turn create new jobs for the almost 1 million youth joining the labour force each year.
And while some critics have been fast to disapprove that some sectors in the ‘big four’ might not ostensibly herald economic transformation, I believe that agriculture is poised to play a critical role in Kenya’s economic growth in the medium term. Here are a few reasons why.
First, evidence from elsewhere in the world shows that no nation or region developed a modern and prosperous economy without first establishing a successful agricultural sector. This holds true for the regions of America and Europe 100 years ago and in the regions of Asia and Latin America in more recent years. In this regard, to achieve economic growth and shared prosperity, a nation needs to first feed itself. It is my belief that the ascent of food and nutrition security to the priority list of the government is a step in that direction.
Second, even though agriculture, once the backbone of our economy, has not received as much attention as it deserves, its significance can never be overemphasized. It accounts for 30% of GDP and is a source of 75% of industrial raw material. It further accounts for 65% of Kenya’s exports and provides 18% and 65% of formal and total employment respectively. It is not only inevitable but also imperative that such a significant sector of the nation’s economy would rise to the top of the government’s priority. It is also important to note that when anchored upon the development of agriculture, other sectors, even some in the big four will sequentially expand. A good example would be manufacturing. For instance, the governments guarantee to buy cotton from local farmers would expand the local textile manufacturing sector as well as lead to the increase of ginneries. Also, the leather industry would reap big from the processing of hides and skins locally.
Lastly, relative to others sectors and even some in the ‘big four’, agriculture provides ‘quick gains’ with its effects being realised over a shorter period of time and over a broader spectrum of the nation’s population. Moreover, the development of agriculture has the power to initiate and catalyse inclusive economic transformation to even the poorest of the poor. Therefore, economic growth catalysed by the development of agriculture can raise the living standards of a majority of Kenyans while reducing poverty and inequality.
It is my view that the renewed push to make agriculture a powerful engine for economic growth does not only place the nation on a path to food and nutritional security but also sets it on a launch pad for broader economic progress.
The writer is a former associate at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). An agricultural enthusiast, he is passionate about agricultural transformation and its innumerable benefits to the millions of smallholder farmers. He is also 2017 YALI RLC Fellow.