Is agriculture being neglected under devolution?

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on June 16, 2017

 It is not a secret that Kenya has been suffering the consequences of a ravaging drought for about a year now. Q1 2017 GDP growth stood at 4.7 percent largely due to a notable contraction in agriculture. The 1.1 percent contraction in agriculture is obviously informed by the drought. For example, the drought has decimated the production of tea one of Kenya’s key exports; production is expected to drop by 12 to 30 percent. Livestock production has also been devastated with estimated losses of 40 to 60 percent of livestock assets particularly in the North East and Coast. Maize farmers in Uasin Gishu continue to generate measly yields from their farms.

The question becomes, how did this happen? This is the first major drought to affect the country since the advent of devolution. Are there issues that have emerged in the context of devolution that allowed the drought to grip the country to the extent it has? The answer seems to be yes.Image result for agriculture Kenya


The first issue is budget allocations to agriculture. According to the International Budget Partnership (IBP), national government allocated the sector as follows: 2 percent in 2015/16, 1.3 percent in 2016/2017 and 1.8 percent in 2017/18. As IBP points out, the Maputo Declaration 2003 calls for allocation of at least 10 percent of total national budget towards agriculture. The average expenditure on agriculture in Africa is 4.5 percent; Kenya’s national allocations are sub-par. These paltry allocations may be due to the fact that that agriculture isn’t an attractive sector to finance. Infrastructure remains a priority for national and (it seems) county governments because physical assets can be pointed to as proof of ‘development’. The same cannot be done with agriculture, as a result agriculture seems to wallowing in financial neglect.

The second concern is the lack of coordination between county and national government. It is still not clear who is responsible for what in the agriculture sector. While agriculture has been devolved, the truth is that the national government through the Ministry of Agriculture, is still a key player in the sector. In the work I have done at county level, it has become abundantly clear that neither county nor national government are of the view that they are fully in charge of the sector. As a result, the sector is wallowing in a lack of ownership riddled by a lack of collaboration and coordination between the two levels of government. This is surely a contributing factor that allowed the drought to reach the scale it did.

Image result for agriculture Kenya counties


The third is a breakdown in support services to small holder farmers and poor early warning systems; both of which should sit in the county government. It has been noted that extension services that rural farmers in particular used to enjoy are no longer there. Aside from subsidies in fertiliser for example, small holder farmers on whom most Kenyans rely for food, need continuous support to make their farms more productive, limit post-harvest loss and make sure their products reach markets. County governments also seem to have failed in the early warning systems that should have signalled the crisis as they are present at grassroots levels. County governments seems to be having difficulty in playing their role in the sector and it is not clear why. Perhaps it may be a combination of a lack of technical capacity as well as limited financial allocations to the sector.

What is clear is that the situation detailed above cannot continue to happen. National and County government need to not only prioritise agriculture in terms of budget allocations but also solve the coordination problem that is so clear.

 Anzetse Were is a development economist;


TV Panel feature on the cost of living in Kenya

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On May 11, 2017 I was interviewed on cost of living issues in Kenya.

How to prevent corruption from arresting economic development

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on June 12, 2015

Corruption has always been a hot topic for Kenyans but recently it has become a national obsession. We all know that graft is deeply rooted in this country and threatens our economic development. So the focus should now be on: how can we address corruption effectively as a nation?

Firstly, all public bodies that can play a role in arresting graft should not only be more enabled to speedily discharge their constitutional mandate, but also be seen to be doing so. This is crucial because if institutions like the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Judiciary, the auditor-general’s office, the Kenya Revenue Authority and even the Kenya Police are seen to be failing in their duty to arrest corruption and seed a culture of transparency in public office, the cynicism in Kenyans will only grow and so will the graft.


Secondly, those suspected of corruption must be charged and those found guilty prosecuted. This has been said numerous times but Kenyans are still waiting for the day when a high profile public graft case will end with an official being prosecuted and actually facing consequences such as imprisonment. One major problem is that the language of corruption has been politicised and any allegations of graft are interpreted by the accused as witch-hunting.

This is problematic because the politicisation changes the narrative from one where graft is the focus to one where the public postulates as to whether the accused is guilty and/or why they would be “witch-hunted”. The only way this can be arrested is if both leaders allied to government and those who are not are treated in exactly the same manner and undergo the same process. Only then will it be clear that ending graft, and not witch-hunting, is the aim.

Thirdly, ­leverage on technology. We have already seen the role the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) played in preventing the fraudulent procurement at the National Youth Service in which Sh826 million could have been stolen. Ifmis flagged the irregularities and allowed action to be taken to prevent disbursement. Kenya should build on this and look up to Chile. Research by the World Bank makes the point that Chile has created one of the world’s most transparent public procurement systems in the world. ChileCompra was launched in 2003, and is a public electronic system for purchasing and hiring. It has earned a worldwide reputation for excellence, transparency and efficiency. In 2012, users completed 2.1 million purchases issuing invoices totalling $9.1 billion (Sh924 billion). We need to study such examples.


Finally, we have to understand what graft looks like under devolution. The truth is that with devolution, the number of public officials has increased. Therefore, theoretically speaking, there are more fingers in the public money pot and more avenues through which money can “disappear”. It is crucial that we learn the new governance structures, how counties manage and disburse their funds, and the holes that exist that facilitate both petty and grand graft.

Some of these strategies are being deployed such as technology in the use of Ifmis, but more can be done. It is crucial that Kenyans evolve beyond complaining pessimistically about corruption, believing that no improvements will be made. Rather, they should remain vigilant and determined to end corruption. Only then do we stand a chance of arresting this serious social ill.

Were is a development economist; twitter:@anzetse