light manufacturing

Priorities for the Next Administration: Fiscal Policy, Informal Economy and Light Manufacturing

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This article first appeared in the Business Daily on November 29, 2017

With election season over, it is time for the incoming administration to develop priority areas for action. There are three core areas that need urgent attention and should form part of the priority plan.

The first issue is fiscal policy where decisive action has to be taken. Kenya has been on a path of unsustainability defined by aggressive growth in expenditure, subpar revenue generation and growing debt. With a debt burden of KES 4.4 trillion, it is important that the incoming government detail a plan that will put the country on a more sustainable fiscal path. The plan should include strategies to reduce overall expenditure, improve the divide between recurrent and development expenditure, and improve the absorption of development funds. Non-priority spending has to be ruthlessly cut, while revenue collection improved. At the moment expenditure is growing at over 14 percent while revenue collection is only growing at about 12 percent; this is resulting in expanding borrowing requirements. Policy action has to be taken to ensure the growth of revenue collection is higher that growth in expenditure. This issue is urgent because both Moody’s and Fitch (credit rating agencies) are considering a downgrade in Kenya’s credit rating due to our debt position. This would have negative implications in that any new foreign debt would be more highly priced. Thus, government must get expenditure under control, reduce borrowing and improve revenue generation, which leads to the next point.

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The second point of focus should be the informal economy where 90 percent of employed Kenyans earn a living. The administration has yet to table decisive action to make the sector more productive and profitable. While the ultimate focus should be to pull more informal enterprise into the tax net, at the moment there are limited incentives to formalise. Threats of increasing taxation of informal business will merely push activity in this sector further underground and even spark social unrest. Instead, national government should create programs in partnership with county governments to improve the productivity and profitability of informal businesses. The program should include support to informal enterprise in financial and business management, improvements in access to and use of technology, improve informal business premises, concessionary financing packages and business mentorship. Over the next five years, a focus on strengthening the performance of the sector will create a boost in incomes which will not only increase the spending power of Kenyans, but also put the sector on a path where plans for formalisation become more feasible. Only through such action can the government sustainably expand the tax net and increase revenue collection.

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Finally, government needs to focus on truly developing light manufacturing, and that can only happen by boosting agriculture. Whether its food and beverages, leather and leather products, textiles and apparel, a solid agricultural base is required to develop light manufacturing. There are two segments of agriculture that need attention. The first is subsistence farming where over 70 percent of rural labour is locked in largely unproductive agricultural activity. National and county governments have to work with farmers to make their farming more productive, improve storage facilities, help with market access and create options for agro-processing and value addition through light manufacturing. The second segment of agriculture is export-oriented agriculture with it fairly productive, dominant in the sub-sectors of tea, coffee, floriculture and horticulture. Government must create and implement a 5 year plan focused on value addition of this sector by linking export farming to local manufacturing and value addition. Linked to this is the textile value chain which desperately needs revival so that local farmers can supply EPZ firms that tap into the AGOA clothing and apparel market. A process of backward integration is required that builds the value chain from cotton farming, to milling and fabric manufacture, and finally textile and apparel product development and manufacture for export.

If government focuses on these three areas with determination and grit, the next five years can put the country on a more sustainable fiscal path, spur formalisation, expand the tax base, create new and better quality jobs, and reorient the country’s economic structure through building light manufacturing. In doing so, the economy will be more diversified, productive, robust and resilient.

 Anzetse Were is a development economist;

How to develop light manufacturing in Kenya

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on June 11, 2017

Last week I attended a meeting organised by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Africa Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) and the Government of Ethiopia aimed at analysing and sharing lessons on the development of light manufacturing in Africa.

The development of light manufacturing is an important part of Kenya’s plan for industrialisation as articulated in the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme (KITP) developed by the Ministry of Industry. The Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Arkebe Oqubay, made some interesting points about key features of light manufacturing of which countries should be cognisant as they implement industrialisation plans.

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The first is no secret; light manufacturing is labour intensive. This feature makes light manufacturing attractive for African countries as an entry point into industrialisation as it has the ability to absorb large pools of labour. While this is attractive, it seems to me that it can create considerable pressure to rapidly skill up a relatively low skilled labour pool. Human and technical resources have to directed to a young and inexperienced labour pool in order to develop a sector with high labour productivity and high profit-making potential. Clearly it can be done, but has to be well thought out with clear links to education policy.

The second point made was that countries cannot implement a light manufacturing strategy without addressing issues in agriculture. Whether it is textiles and apparel, leather and leather products, or food and beverages (F&B) manufacturing, agricultural inputs are crucial. In this sense Kenya faces a conundrum because certain segments of the agricultural sector such as tea, horticulture and floriculture are highly productive, but the rest of the sector wallows in poor productivity and considerable inefficiencies. It is no secret that textile and apparel firms in the EPZs in Kenya import their fabric from abroad, a factor that dampens the ability of this value chain to be an even bigger employer and income earner for Kenyans. The leather value chain in the country is also sub-par and the production capacity for domestic agricultural input into F&B manufacturing is lacklustre. What is clear is that Kenya cannot make serious forays into light manufacturing until the issues in the agricultural sector and value chains are fundamentally addressed.

The final point Oqubay made was that the sector should be export-oriented if scale is to be achieved in a manner that restructures the economy. Insights from ODI on this issue point to the importance of conducive trade rules and trade facilitation measures that lower trade costs both in terms of accessing inputs and export markets. If manufacturers cannot get the inputs they require and reach target export markets, the sector cannot effectively scale.

Other factors important in industrial policy, as pointed out by ODI, is collaboration and coordination between public and private sector in a manner that creates consensus on the strategic direction of the sector and country at large. When coupled with effective investment facilitation, SEZ creation/industry cluster development, and infrastructure development, it creates an environment where light industry can take off.

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Kenya can build on the successes being registered in infrastructure development and expedite the creation of SEZs, learning from countries like Ethiopia. However, the country needs a sharper focus on improving agricultural productivity, a more coherent skills development strategy, vastly improve investment facilitation and more effectively encourage public-private dialogue on the development of light manufacturing in the country.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;