By MACHEL WAIKENDA
In the Bible, Joseph’s older brothers were jealous of him because of the calling in his life and sold him as a slave. While a slave in Egypt, he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that the nation would have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine.
As a result, Joseph was made Prime Minister of the Egyptian government and put in charge of the grain reserves. During the seven years of plenty, the Egyptian empire focussed on accumulating adequate food reserves that made the nation powerful during the famine, as other nations suffered.
Egypt took food security seriously. Over the years, we have had unnecessary episodes of famine in Kenya, where we are always seeking to raise funds to feed millions of hungry Kenyans.
No Kenyan should sleep hungry in a country that has had agriculture as a key preoccupation since before Independence. Food security is, therefore, a crucial component of the Big Four agenda, and its success will ensure this nation prospers.
The just-ended rains are set to give farmers one of the best harvests in years, and this is the time to capitalise on the surplus food. The country has faced droughts and famine almost every year and to break this trend, we must accumulate enough strategic food reserves.
Instructively, the government has set aside Sh20.25 billion in this year’s budget for direct financing of enhancing food and nutrition security to all Kenyans by 2022, as outlined in the Big Four plan.
The food security plan aims at an expanded irrigation scheme, increased access to agricultural inputs and supported large-scale production of staples.
To achieve food security and improved nutrition, the government is focusing on three broad areas — enhancing large-scale production, boosting smallholder productivity and reducing the cost of food.
In the Big Four plan, the government seeks to place an additional 700,000 acres under maize, potato, rice and feeds production; expand irrigation schemes and secure water towers and river ecosystems as part of enhancing large-scale production. Large-scale production will have two direct effects — lower the cost of food, which helps all Kenyans and also create thousands of jobs, giving the unemployed a livelihood.
The Big Four food plan also seeks to increase agricultural productivity among smallholder farmers by up-scaling crop and livestock insurance, with the goal of cushioning farmers against climate-related risks. The plan, which involves getting contract farmers for Strategic Food Reserve and other commercial off-takers, will ensure farmers have ready markets for their produce.
To reduce the cost of food, the government is also seeking to provide affordable energy, enhancing market distribution infrastructure and availing incentives for post-harvest technologies to reduce post-harvest losses from 20 to 15 per cent
VAT exemption of equipment to be used in the construction of grain storage facilities to support safe storage is also a great move to ensure the food security component of the Big Four is successful.
The plan also involves establishing the East Africa premier food hub, secure investors to build a shipyard and increase domestic fishing fleet by 68 vessels at the Coast.
As part of the job creation strategy, the government wants to attract one fish feed mill investor and two processors for marine and freshwater fish processing. There is a specific aim of expanding fish yield to 18,000 tonnes annually by 2022 from the current 2,500 tonnes. This will not only ensure the country is food secure but will also give fish farmers the opportunity to export to other countries.
In a nutshell, food security, as part of the Big Four, will enhance the country’s prosperity as it not only ensures there is a well-fed population but also creates jobs and livelihoods.
The writer is a political and communications consultant