BusinessPeople Daily

The role of villages, small towns in rural development

James Ngomeli

Happy New Year 2018. As the country races back to normalcy, there is a lot to ponder about this year. Top in the list is end-year migration, between cities and rural areas, and the rising number of accidents on the key corridors.

The ever-growing traffic jams witnessed on Thika road, Mombasa road, Nairobi-Nakuru road during the festive period has presented an opportunity that policy makers across the country should think through. Why is the annual migration growing?

First, electrification of the rural areas has brought to life once desolate towns. Second, devolution has turned county towns into economic centres with improved road networks that have made the movement much easier.

Security situation has also improved across board, something that has encouraged many more people to visit the village after the end of a year’s hard work. Can we turn this migration into a continuous economic activity at the village level?

However, the potential of the four million new electricity connections has not been tapped fully. Changing the small towns from paying bills to income-generating activities should be a key priority of the national government and county governments.

The 70 per cent access rate in electricity connectivity is not comparing well with 16 per cent current share of gross domestic product (GDP) in the manufacturing sector. There is a missing link between increased connectivity and increase in factors of production.

The millions of youth languishing at the village level need inspiring story. Government must move very quickly to establish capacity building centres where value addition in the agro-processing can be tapped. Right now, despite all those initiatives in mango producing areas, prices are still at Sh3 and Sh5 a mango. The need to build capacity of farmers for next season must start now.

The value addition to our agricultural sector could expand the GDP by more than three per cent in three years. All the government needs to do is capture the overseas markets then move backwards to boost the capacity of the farmers to produce right products.

Let us also not forget that tax incentives is also important in encouraging the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to start engaging in value addition at the county level. The assumption that you need to invest hundreds of million to get incentives must be debunked. A Sh500,000 investment at the county level should get similar treatment as any other major manufacturing concern.

Most importantly, there should be a campaign to turn the highway towns into 24-hour economic hubs. The country cannot talk about its match to middle income status when it is neglecting its lowest hanging fruits like Mtito–Andei, Emali, Sultan Hamud, Mlolongo and right to Malaba, which could generate thousands of jobs if well-light and with necessary facilities. The writer is the Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Marketing – East Africa.

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