The cost of living has risen, so has the prices of essential commodities such as food. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, as per the 30th of June 2022, a 2kg packet of maize flour retailed at an average price Kshs.186, up from an average price of Kshs 129 in June 2021. Maize is Kenya’s staple food and it gives the indication that Kenyans are currently living from hand to mouth.
With two weeks left until Kenya’s general election. Kenyans have a choice to make between the four presidential aspirants who will lead this country to prosperity. These are the current Deputy President William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza coalition, former prime minister Raila Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja coalition, law professor George Wajackoyah of the Roots Party and lawyer David Mwaure Waihiga of the Agano Party.
Is the current cost of living crisis a matter of concern to the four Presidential candidates? Do their manifestos address the current food,agriculture, climate change and environment issues facing Kenyans? I take a non-partisan deep dive into the Presidential Manifestos. Pointing out what they have articulated well and what is largely missing. I focused on the Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza Manifestos as I could not find the manifestos of Roots party of Kenya and Agano party on their respective websites.
Let’s Start with Agriculture and Food
The Kenya Kwanza Manifesto
The Kenya Kwanza manifesto spearheaded by William Ruto has agriculture as one of its key priorities. It rightly points out that agriculture has the highest employment multiplier effect.
It further goes ahead to list key facts and figures that affect agricultural productivity in the country before giving its commitment to solving these issues.
So what did Kenya Kwanza get right?
- The most important resource in a country is the human resource. No development can occur without it. Capital is also a key factor of production that is dependent upon the availability of labour. I like that Kenya Kwanza is committed to providing adequate and affordable working capital to farmers through well managed farmer organisations.
- Farming is a risky investment owing to its dependency on weather patterns in Kenya. It can be unprofitable at times for most farmers and pastoralists. I liked that the Kenya Kwanza coalition recognized this and offered to provide crop and livestock insurance schemes and commodity market instruments to ensure it is profitable and the income guaranteed for the farmers.
- Directly or indirectly agriculture provides a livelihood for more than 80% of the Kenyan population. The plan by Kenya Kwanza to increase agricultural productivity is likely to have a direct impact on the Kenyan population. I liked that they clearly elaborated what ails the agricultural sector and gave a clear breakdown of the figure estimates of what farmers need to produce more efficiently. For instance, if elected they aim to raise productivity of key value food chains and other value chains (maize 8 -15 bags an acre, dairy 2.5kg- 7.5kg a cow a day, beef car-cass weight from 110kg – 150kg); This is brilliant because if agricultural productivity is increased farmers are likely to have more money to spend in other sectors which equates to a higher purchasing power.
- Agriculture is interlinked with other sectors such as health and manufacturing. However agriculture has the ability to create four times the jobs than these other sectors. I liked how the Kenya Kwanza showed the linkage between agriculture and other sectors; foreign exchange, job creation, incomes, and industrialisation. All the same stressing on the importance of improving agricultural productivity by focussing on subsistence agriculture which produces the food consumed in Kenya while acknowledging the export value of agriculture and seeking to revamp the underperforming and collapsed export crops while expanding emerging ones (coffee, cashew nuts, pyrethrum, avocado, macadamia nuts) as well as boosting tea value chains.
- Whoever controls a country’s food supply directly controls that country. To reduce control and overreliance on imports, it is important for Kenya to produce more to feed its people. I think it is brilliant that Kenya Kwanza focussed on enabling farmers to produce more food as opposed to relying too much on imports such as edible oils, rice and wheat. They aim to do this by reducing their dependence on basic food imports by 30 percent (domestic oil crop production from 5 percent to 25 percent, rice from 18 percent to 40 percent).
- Infrastructure is key in the realisation of agricultural productivity. Agriculture cannot take place without water. I loved that the Kenya Kwanza coalition gave a thought into water provision and saving. Its commitment on community based water projects is a huge plus as this makes it easier to serve several small communities and it also addresses their different water needs. I also love the fact that they put thought into agricultural water management practices such as micro-irrigation and precision irrigation which helps reduce water wastage in agriculture.
- 80 percent of Kenya’s food is produced by smallholder farmers. I find it good that the Kenya Kwanza coalition seeks to empower farmers to produce more food by transforming two million poor farmers from food deficit to surplus producers through input finance and intensive agricultural extension support, with a target to generate a minimum productivity target of Kshs. 50,000 revenue an acre.
- Finally, they also have a financial commitment of Kshs.250 billion in FY2023 – FY2027 towards agriculture; it is easier for Kenyan citizens to hold The Kenya Kwanza Alliance accountable should they get into leadership.
What they missed.
- Over reliance on certain key crops has an effect on food security and food sovereignty. The Kenya Kwanza coalition missed an opportunity to help smallholder farmers diversify their agricultural produce. I would suggest they put more focus on other crops such as Sorghum, Millet and Cassava which are more nutrient dense, and require less water for planting than maize.
- The Kenya Kwanza alluded to increasing access to inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilisers . They conspicuously failed to mention the use of toxic pesticides which has dominated food safety conversation in Kenya in the recent past. It would be good for them to increase access to environmentally friendly inputs such as biopesticides and organic fertilisers by working with Kenyan companies that produce such. I believe it is critical for Kenyans to be protected from harm such as the use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilisers otherwise the health sector will be overburdened. Sick people cannot build the nation.
- 80 percent – 90percent of the seeds used in agriculture in Kenya today are uncertified indigenous seeds. Kenya Kwanza focussed on certified seeds and left out indigenous and local seeds therefore failing to cater to the smallholder farmer who uses indigenous seeds to grow food.
Azimio la umoja Manifesto
The Azimio la umoja manifesto spearheaded by Raila Odinga also has agriculture as agenda 4 of its ten point agenda. It is dubbed “Azimio la Ukulima” (Farming Resolution). Azimio’s ultimate goal in agriculture is to generate agricultural bounty to feed the people of Kenya – the Fukuza Njaa agenda (Kick out hunger agenda)
What did they address well?
- They have rightly highlighted some of the factors leading to low agricultural productivity in the country such as high cost of inputs, drought, fragmented agricultural land, poor infrastructure, poor storage, and limited access to credit by farmers.
- They have also gone further to highlight their commitments such as eliminating post harvest losses, implementing minimum guarantee returns to Kenyan farmers, improving access to affordable inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and chemicals, and credit and improving agricultural infrastructure particularly rural access roads, electric power, and cold storage facilities in every constituency.
- That is just about it. There is no any road map whatsoever or any key facts and figures to accompany the implementation of their commitments.
What they missed
- Its first commitment is to implement minimum guarantee returns to Kenyan farmers. How will they do it? What is the number of farmers they are targeting? How much will they set aside for this? It is nearly impossible to hold Azimio la umoja accountable to this.
- They mention climate change adaptation and mitigation; whereas they mention the provision of minimum guarantee returns, they have not delved into provision of water and feed to pastoralists who lose their crops and livestock to extreme weather events such as drought and floods each year. How can livestock farming be improved if pastoralists are not cushioned from climatic shocks like drought and floods? It would be good for Azimio to focus on this.
- They have generally touched on improving access to inputs.Whereas their objective is good. They missed an opportunity to provide environmentally safe inputs for farmers such as organic fertilisers and biopesticides that do not harm Kenyan farmers and consumers. They also did not give any facts and figures to back this commitment. How much input do farmers need to produce on one acre of land? How much will they provide? What is the number of farmers they are targeting?
- They also want to commercialise large scale arable but idle government land into productive agricultural enterprise. In my opinion this is a bad move, Kenya has a history of lacking a benevolent government to manage agriculture at a commercial scale. And there is no way to prove that Azimio will be that benevolent government. It would be good for Azimio to focus on enabling smallholder farmers to produce more at the local level as they already produce 80% of the food consumed in Kenya.
- There is also a heavy focus on mechanising agriculture. Currently mechanisation is not good for our country unless it is adapted for subsistence farming as it takes away jobs. We need not disenfranchise the smallholder farmers. Let farmers continue farming on their small farms but with maximum support from the government.
- Majority of the fertile land in the highlands is being converted to real estate developments. This threatens the status of food availability in the future and affects food prices. It would have been good for Azimio to build more on their commitment on fragmented land and show how they will manage the two. Maybe pass laws that bar counties with fertile soils from converting all their fertile agricultural land into real estate developments.
On Matters Environment and Climate Change
Kenya Kwanza coalition
What they addressed well
They focussed on three environmental issues.
- Deforestation and air pollution affect the environment and humans in equal measure. It is good that the Kenya Kwanza coalition is seeking to address this through increasing wood fuel by promoting youth-owned and operated briquette-making enterprises where agricultural waste is available in commercially viable quantities (coffee waste, rice husks, maize cobs and coconut husks) and modernising, commercialising the charcoal value chain, specifically the adoption of modern kilns.
- Trees are critical in preventing erosion, regulating the climate, and protecting water towers. It is good that Kenya kwanza aims at increasing tree cover through agroforestry by planting 5 million acres (20,000 km2) agro forestry woodlots in drylands.
- It is good that they are also focussing on a circular economy in solid waste management with plastics taking the centre stage.
Azimio la umoja coalition
What they addressed well
- They captured the pertinent environmental issues such as water and soil pollution from nitrogen fertilisers,sewage and industrial waste. I liked that they backed this up with facts of about 30%-50% of nitrogen applied to soils finding its way into rivers and air as the chemical pollution that needs to be arrested together with sewerage water and industrial waste. It is good that they also addressed the issue of air pollution and the plan to invest in real time air monitoring technology. They also gave statistics to back this up.
- They also touched on deforestation, and conservation of the key water towers in Kenya.Generally they are aware of environmental issues in Kenya.
What both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio missed on the environment and climate change front.
- Conspicuously missing in Kenya Kwanza’s manifesto was the focus on water pollution. Water pollution from toxic pesticides, fertilisers, sewage and industrial plants was not mentioned. Kenyan lakes and other water bodies are in a dire situation. A while ago Daily Nation did a story highlighting the choking to death of Lake victoria from pollution. If water bodies are contaminated, how will this water be used for agriculture? Contamination minimises the amount of freshwater available for agriculture, it also places at risk the population using it. It would have been good to have this captured in both manifestos.
- Azimio la umoja on the other hand, contradicted themselves, they highlighted the role of chemical fertilisers in water pollution and yet they still advocate for improving access to fertilisers which means more farmers using chemical fertilisers hence more water and soil pollution.
- Kenya Kwanza overlooked the role played by agricultural waste to feed livestock. Will communities feed their livestock or use the waste to make eco-friendly briquettes for cooking.
- Kenya Kwanza also failed to show the connection between wood fuel, deforestation, air pollution and the resulting health impacts. They were more focussed on providing briquettes as a clean energy alternative. Azimio failed on this one as they only focussed on providing air quality monitoring technology and at the industry level.
- Both manifestos score zero on solid waste management. In the case of Kenya Kwanza, the majority of the plastics used in the Kenyan market cannot be recycled because each plastic harbours a different resin code at its bottom, this determines whether the plastics can be recycled or not. It is also not economically and environmentally viable to recycle some plastics,as they are quite cheap. It would have been good for Kenya Kwanza to focus on tightening the existing laws on plastics and banning the use of the remaining single-use plastics in Kenya. Also focus on supporting startups that provide alternatives to plastics. Azimio on the other hand just lightly mentions developing an effective waste disposal and management program? It was not clear how they plan to do that.
- Wildlife conservation conspicuously missed from both manifestos. Azimio la Umoja mentions conserving natural resources and empowering communities to secure their natural resources. Sadly that t is just about it. Kenya Kwanza does not mention it at all. Wildlife is Kenya’s heritage which exists amongst Kenya’s communities and by extension generates a substantial amount of revenue for the Kenyan government. How will they ensure communities continue to coexist with wildlife? How will they protect community land from being stolen under the disguise of conservation? How will they ensure communities benefit from the revenue obtained from the use of their local resources? Both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio overlooked this important resource.
- Azimio la Umoja has a plan to provide incentives such as carbon credits for adapting land utilisation methods to support conservation. Carbon credits do not work in conservation. It is a fallacy and greenwashing term used to show involvement in conservation with zero impact and measurable objectives. How will they measure the carbon credit incentives? I am curious to know.
- In the Azimio la Umoja manifesto, I was looking forward to reading more on how they will address air pollution in cities and villages aside from investing in real time air monitoring technology. How will they do this? How measurable is this commitment of theirs. How many communities are they targeting?
- Adaptation to climate change is a long term investment in infrastructure and systems that will help Kenyans adjust to climate change. Mitigation involves reducing the levels of Greenhouse emissions. Funds are needed in realising climate change and adaptation. Both manifestos mention climate change, climate change adaptation and mitigation in passing. They have no funds allocated to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Kenya Kwanza tried by planning to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by promoting green technology (Briquettes) and planting trees. Azimio has no plan whatsoever on climate change mitigation and adaptation aside from highlighting that opportunities exist to address climate change and adopting green development practices.
In conclusion, a manifesto when implemented in its entirety is supposed to improve the lives of Kenyan citizens. Remember to vote for leaders who value the environment, seek to address food and agriculture problems that we as Kenyans are facing.
Campaigner, Greenpeace Africa