In Summary
  • The agenda focuses on food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare as key pillars anchoring his development policies during his second and final term in office.
  • A study established that “farm productivity and incomes tend to rise with population density up to 600-650 persons per km2; beyond this threshold, rising population density is associated with sharp declines in farm productivity.”
  • For Kenya to be food secure, it is necessary to discourage further land subdivision and possibly start land consolidation to enable large-scale mechanised commercial production to meet the needs of the growing population.
  • A lot of land lies idle and unused in places like Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Laikipia and Trans Nzoia because people who hold titles to it cannot access it for purposes of farming owing to hostilities from communities claiming it as their ancestral land, gazing lands or forest lands.
  • With proper policy measures, strict standards, assisting farmers to reduce post-harvest losses, irrigation (arid and semi-arid lands), adjusting cultural practices, improving farming methods, we can attain food security.

During last year’s Jamhuri Day speech, President Uhuru Kenyatta revealed his legacy agenda under the banner the “Big Four”.

The agenda focuses on food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare as key pillars anchoring his development policies during his second and final term in office.

Starting this week, I will be analysing this agenda in a four-part series in this column. The aim is to critically look at each of the pillars and make suggestions on how best we can achieve these goals.

Today’s column is dedicated to the analysis of the first pillar — food security.

Food security is a vital cog in the economic growth of any country. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as a state “when all people have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life at all times.”

POPULATION AND LAND

Without such in any country, there will be social and economic instability.

There are several variables that impact food security. Key among them is population and land resources.

In 2018, Kenya’s population is expected to hit 51 million, more than 13 million new lives since the last census of 2009, when the country had 36.8 million people.

If you carefully scrutinise the population density and the climate maps below, you can see that they mirror each other. In other words, the density of the population is higher in the most arable land inhabited by largely peasant farmers who own small pieces of land.


Yet, according to FAO, smallholder farmers contribute more than 80 percent of food supply in Africa, as well as in Kenya.

The nexus between population, land size and productivity was the subject of a 1997–2010 study by Milu Muyanga and T.S. Jayne in their paper Effects of Population Density on Smallholder Agricultural Production and Commercialization in Rural Kenya, through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Michigan State University’s Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

The study established that “farm productivity and incomes tend to rise with population density up to 600-650 persons per km2; beyond this threshold, rising population density is associated with sharp declines in farm productivity.”

MINIMUM LAND SIZE

At the time, “14% of Kenya’s rural population was residing in areas exceeding this population density.” Although no new study has been undertaken, the additional 13 million people must have pushed the percentage of Kenyans living in areas that they will experience drastic productivity decline.

The study concluded that Kenya needed to explore the nature of institutional and policy reforms needed to address these development problems.

Indeed at the time, the then Lands minister Amos Kimunya came up with a policy on minimum land size but political pundits destroyed it before the public debated it.

As a result, there isn’t much arable land in Kenya where farm mechanisation can help improve productivity.

In my view, for Kenya to be food secure, it is necessary to discourage further land subdivision and possibly start land consolidation to enable large-scale mechanised commercial production to meet the needs of the growing population.

DANGER OF RELYING ON PEASANT FARMERS

The danger of the continuing reliance on peasant farming is that a few Lords of Poverty have mastered ways of manipulating small-scale farmers and carting away huge sums of money.

Every year, we are told that farmers will get fertilizer but no one has ever questioned why yields are declining if the farmers are using fertilizer.

The truth is that more than 70 percent of fertilizer in the country is counterfeit. Even government officials cannot explain how or who imports such fertilizer.

In the past few years farmers have lost their entire crop as a result of maize lethal necrosis, a seed-borne disease that may have entered the country due to regulatory failure. The liberalised seed market must be subjected to a strict regulatory environment if we want to realise food security.

Other factors that impact food security include the high percentage of food that goes to waste due to poor storage and non-scientific methods of food preparation; cultural practices that undermine the health of the people; farming methods; consumption patterns; and poor logistics in moving food from areas of surplus to deficient regions.

Page 1 of 2