Kenya continues to import large quantities of its major crops to make up for national output shortfalls despite growth in agriculture. Many cash crops have been on their death beds for decades as the key sector crumbled under inefficiencies and mismanagement.
Currently, the robust construction industry is gobbling up land previously used for coffee farming in areas such as Ruiru, Kiambu and Murang’a, compounding challenges facing the sector.
With the spectre of climate change hanging in the horizon, analysts reckon drastic changes are required in the sector since only 20 per cent of Kenya’s total land area has sufficient fertility and rainfall for farming, making the country a net importer of key commodities.
According to the Economic Survey 2016, Kenya had a wheat shortfall of 1.2 million tonnes last year despite production increasing from 100,000 tonnes in 2011 to 238,600 tonnes in 2015, having consumed a whopping 1.6 million tonnes.
It also estimates that the total area under sugarcane increased by 5.8 per cent as new factories such as Kwale International Sugar Company pushed cane deliveries to 6.8 million tonnes in 2015. Local production increased from 490,000 tonnes in 2011 to 632,000 tonnes in 2015.
However, corresponding imports also shot up from 139,100 tonnes to 247,400 tonnes in the same period. As for coffee, high labour costs, escalating cost of farm inputs and poor corporate governance at grower institutions had an impact on the dip in production, experts say.
“The average yield for estates and co-operatives declined by 13.3 per cent and 17.2 per cent to 589.5 kilogrammes per hectare and 310 kilogrammes per hectare in 2014/15,” says the Economic Survey.
Experts say Kenya must invest in the areas where it has comparative advantage by exiting the less-productive ones.
Without a quick solution, the economic input of crops such as pyrethrum, cotton and tobacco could dip further and slow the sector’s overall productivity even as the State continues to write off billions in debts extended to different sectors.
“By and large, the question is; how do we have comparative advantage to ensure increased production for local consumption and exports?” poses Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Development director Mary Mathenge.
She says most sub-sectors have been under protective policies, some of which came with a lot of inefficiencies. “We have to ask ourselves these broad questions to grow the sector,” she adds.