By Gift Briton

Though agriculture remains the silver bullet with real potential to elevate people from poverty and enhance food security within a short time and with less relative investments, the sector faces numerous challenges including overreliance on rainwater that hinders its full potential.

Ambassador Carla Mucavi, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative, Kenya said during the launch of the organization’s country programming framework for Kenya, in Nairobi.

According to her, despite more than half of the counties in Kenya being regarded as either arid or semi-arid, only seven percent of the arable land is irrigated. This lack of irrigation puts at risk more than 300,000 individuals whose livelihoods directly depend on agriculture across the country.

“Food insecurity still remains with close to four million people in arid and semi-arid lands(ASALs) chronically exposed depending on the severity of drought or floods making the Country two times more food price volatile compared to its regional peers,” Ambassador Mucavi noted.

Ambassador Carla Mucavi, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative, Kenya

She pointed out that to address the food insecurity issue in the country, the government in collaboration with other development partners, need to expand access to water within communities to enhance sustainable and resilient nutrition-sensitive agri-food systems.

Stressing the adverse effects of climate change, Mucavi, stated that Kenya just went through the most severe drought spell in over 40 years which led to the loss of over two million livestock and exposed large populations, not only in the traditional ASAL areas but in other zones not considered vulnerable, to chronic food-insecure state.

“Agriculture can only play its role in poverty alleviation and creation of decent jobs if it attracts the right policy attention and profile, particularly in the allocation of commensurate budgets and investments. There is therefore an urgent need to re-orient Kenya’s budget process at both National and County Governments to commit commensurate resources to agriculture because this is the right and rational thing to do.”

In his keynote address during the launch event, Mithika Linturi, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, said that the government has allocated a total of 49.9 billion Kenya shillings to the agricultural sector and will, among others, support the provision of fertilizer subsidy, irrigation, emergency migratory pests’ response, livestock production, the blue economy, and Climate Smart Agriculture initiatives.

He added: “The Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) aims at transforming agriculture through modernization of on-farm production, shifting production towards more climate-smart solutions and driving more resilient food systems in crops and livestock sectors.”

Mithika Linturi, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development

According to Ahmed Abdullahi, Governor Wajir County and Deputy Council of Governors (CoGs), Kenya is among the most food-insecure nations globally, ranking 86th out of 113 countries in the global food security index 2022.

The Governor observed: “We will not have food insecurity in this country unless we start large-scale farming in the arid and semi-arid lands. We need to invest in Water In A Big Way In The Arid And Semi-Arid Lands.”

Mariatu Kamara, Country Director- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) urged that to ensure that food systems are sustainable, the private sectors, civil societies and other development partners, need to work with the government to increase communities’ access to irrigation water.

“Access to water is the game changer in ensuring that communities remain resilient in the face of climate change. We need to work in partnership to fit into the government’s strategies and work with communities at the local level.  We need to design, implement and evaluate with communities because communities know best issues are affecting them, how to fix them and all they need is financing,” she noted.