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Owners of idle land to be taxed, says CS Bett

George Kebaso and Nicholas Waitathu @PeopleDailyKe

Owners of idle land risk paying huge taxes under a new government move that also targets to transform thousands of acres of unutilised public land into massive agricultural production zones.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary Willy Bett yesterday disclosed that from January 2018 the government will—on compulsory basis—make use of public land for massive agricultural production as part of enhanced efforts to realise food sufficiency, production and eventually self-reliance by the year 2020.

“The government in the medium term will endeavour to ensure the country is food sufficient by fast-tracking all available resources, mainly public and private land. Our intention is to exploit big chunks of idle land to produce more food to feed the surging population,” he told the media shortly after addressing guests attending a half-day US Agency for International Development (USAID) event in Nairobi.

The CS said already, 60,000 acres of public land for food production has been identified for the rollout of the plan while private, arable land currently not under use will be taxed.

The process of identifying more land lying fallow is ongoing according to the CS. Bett said, as the country struggles to feed itself, there is are huge chunks of arable land lying idle in various parts of Kenya.

“We are going to commercialise all the public land which is not under production, whether under government parastatals or the Ministry of Agriculture and avail it to commercial investors to produce food. We will pose expression of interest and we will begin from where these farms are, we will even go ahead and show the various value chains that are good for these areas,” he said.

Further, he said the government would work with relevant authorities in charge of land matters, especially the ministry, to develop and enact new laws that will compel owners of private land to convert their parcels into agricultural food production.

Speaking during a national smallholder commercialisation meeting at a Nairobi hotel, the CS also said the government wants to avail such farms to commercial entrepreneurs to produce food.

“If you own land and you are not using it you will either pay taxes on it or avail it for commercial use. I believe this is not too much to ask because if you have lyand which you are not using, and we need to use it so that we can feed Kenyans, it is only fair that we compel you in one way or another to avail the property for production,” he said of the initiative also supported by Migori Governor, Okoth Obado.

The Governor who is also the chairman of the Agriculture Committee at the Council of Governors (CoG) said counties are ready to implement the programme.

“Public land is almost everywhere in the country. We only need laws to implement the programme. However, we would have to sensitise the people about the benefits of large-scale food production so that in a way we can persuade private owners to be part of it,” he added.

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