Pay farm­ers well to achieve food se­cu­rity

Business Daily (Kenya) - - EDITORIAL & OPINION -

up to the 2017 Gen­eral Elec­tion the coun­try had a maize short­age and had to im­port huge con­sign­ment of maize. How­ever, be­cause it was an elec­tion sea­son the gov­ern­ment had to sub­sidise the prices of maize meal. As soon as elec­tions were over, though the prices shot up to their cur­rent re­tail­ing prices.

Both De­cem­ber 2017 and this year’s har­vest have been bumper har­vests. These may partly ex­plain the avail­abil­ity of maize in large quan­ti­ties and the con­se­quent direc­tive by the Agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary to re­duce the prices by 50 per cent. From a con­sumer’s per­spec­tive this makes sense.

How­ever, it does not help the farm­ers who grow the crop. When the prices at which they are re­quired to sell can­not meet the cost of pro­duc­tion, they are not in­cen­tivised to grow the crop. The coun­try has had this ex­pe­ri­ence with sugar, when over the years the cost of pro­duc­tion of sugar is very high.

This makes Kenya’s sugar un­com­pet­i­tive when com­pared to her neigh­bours. Con­se­quently, ev­ery two years Kenya ap­plies to the Com­mon Mar­ket for East­ern and South­ern Africa (Comesa) for safe­guards against im­por­ta­tion of sugar. This s out of the re­al­ity that if al­lowed such sugar will flood the mar­ket and be­ing cheaper will be prefer­able to lo­cally pro­duced sugar. How do we en­sure that maize prices are not just sta­ble but that both pro­duc­tion costs and sale prices are com­pet­i­tive and re­al­is­tic? This must be the pol­icy ques­tion for the Agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary and his team to grap- ple with. It will, how­ever, not be achieved by cel­e­brat­ing, low­er­ing and fix­ing prices for sell­ing maize meal. It must be about ad­dress­ing the costs of in­puts for farm­ers, en­sur­ing there is pol­icy sup­port and that the Na­tional Ce­re­als and Pro­duce Board is re­formed to play its role prop­erly.

While the Agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary was an­nounc­ing the new prices, the Se­nate was re­ceiv­ing lamen­ta­tions from maize farm­ers about their suf­fer­ing with both de­layed and non-pay­ments for the maize bought from them. When prices are low and the amounts are not re­mit­ted, we make farm­ers suf­fer.

One of the Big Four Agenda for the Pres­i­dent is food se­cu­rity. Achiev­ing food se­cu­rity is about guar­an­tee­ing to the cit­i­zenry that there will be avail­able food sup­plies. It must also en­sure that the prices of such food prices are af­ford­able. This is the rea­son why there has been an out­cry over the in­crease in tax­a­tion fol­low­ing the re­cent adop­tion of the Fi­nance Act, 2018. When there is a short­age of crit­i­cal food sup­plies or when cit­i­zens are not able ei­ther to grow suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties or af­ford to pur­chase those they do no grow then pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion is needed.

Cli­mate change has af­fected the pro­duc­tion of sev­eral food crops across the coun­try. Gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties must be in sup­port­ing farm­ers to adapt to the im­pacts of cli­mate change so as to en­sure that there will al­ways be ready sup­ply of food. This sup­port is more ur­gent than cel­e­brat­ing that prices of maize meal shall come down.

It must be about ad­dress­ing the costs of in­puts for farm­ers.”

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