Agricultural experts alarmed by poor budget allocation

Every time we approach the month of June, Kenyans wait with bated breath for one ritual: the budget reading.

For a country that has undergone vicious cycles of drought and poor harvest fueled by the ravaging effects of changing weather patterns, all farmers’ eyes were glued to the screens when Finance Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich rose to present the 2019/2020 budget.

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Although he had uncharacteristically sent chills down the spines of Kenyans, technocrats, economists and the media when he showed up late to Parliament; but when he finally emerged with the ‘golden briefcase’ every sector of the economy had at least a story to tell.

Amid pomp and color that accompanies budget reading, the man at the helm of the National Treasury took the better part of that afternoon explaining how a Sh3.02 trillion cake for the financial year 2019/20 would be shared.

The seventh budget under the Jubilee administration laid bare the state’s spending appetite compared to previous years. This year’s budget is about Ksh 10 billion more than 2018/19, with an estimated deficit of Sh607.8 billion, an increase from Sh562 billion last year.

And so when he rose to the microphone at the August House amid applause from legislators whenever he made a statement; there were going to be winners and losers at last. What was not clear was which sector of the economy, until he finished his budgetary statement!

Education, manufacturing, youth, women, and persons living with disability, security and war on graft emerged winners. While gamblers, drinkers, and smokers, boda-boda operators, the wealthy and recruitment of civil servants were dealt a blow. But it is the driver of robust economies worldwide, Agriculture, that too suffered a chop.

Rotich allocated Sh59.1billion to Agriculture, Rural and Urban Development which is 0.8 percent lower compared to a Budget Policy Statement ceiling of Sh59.1 billion. According to the Economic Survey 2019, the agricultural sector contributes about 25 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The budget, Rotich said, was aimed at transforming the economy and advancing the big-four agenda but food security experts and farmers did not buy that narrative.

“The allocation to agriculture is inadequate, poorly targeted, and cannot lead to the realization of the right to food for Kenyans,” said Layla Liebetrau, Project Lead of the Route to Food Initiative.

What now worries experts more is whether Kenya will meet its food and nutrition security pillar of the Big Four Agenda? Poking holes on the allocation, the experts said, the budget for agriculture and food, stands at 2.9 percent of total voted expenditure.

This is less than last year’s 3.5 per cent and represents a steady decline since FY2013/14 which was also 3.5 per cent. Kenya, a signatory Maputo declaration’s 10 percent commitment towards agriculture budgetary allocation, experts say-has accorded little attention to the same. The European Union allocates close to two-thirds of its budget to the sector.

Liebetrau said there is need for government to prioritize the sector, and possibly increase allocations towards development projects instead of heavy spending on recurrent expenditure. But the Finance CS, when asked a few days over his budgetary allocation towards agriculture, had this to say, “

Mary Nkatha a smallholder farmer from Abothoguchi, Meru County too listened eagerly from her radio as she inspected her one-acre banana plantation. “As a farmer, I wanted to know how the budget will help me in improving my production. It was not good news for smallholders,” she said.

On the other hand, pundits have continued to heap praise on the state’s policies to spearhead ‘an agricultural revolution take off’, however, the same group point fingers at lack of zeal by the same stakeholders to put a ‘strong case’ for agricultural budget allocation.

“Our government has allocated the bulk of agricultural resources to support large scale farming and export promotion to the disadvantage of smallholder farmers who produce at least 70 percent of food to the country. We need to support and uplift smallholder farmers to achieve food security and self-reliance,” Renee Olende, Greenpeace Africa’s Senior Campaign Manager advices the government said.

But what worriers experts to the core, is the declining allocation to the sector despite contributing most to the economy. The Land and Planning Ministry and National Lands Commission fall under the overall Agriculture and Rural Development Sector, which experts notes, is a re-classification that detracts from the focus that food and nutrition requires in its own dedicated sector.

The shrinking support for agricultural sector has financial sector expert and consultant Alexander Owino worried, “For several years, spending in agriculture-the figures have been falling in the past 15 years, contributing largely to systemic failure of the country’s economic pillar.”

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