By Shadrack Agaki
Food systems’ transformation to ensure that everyone has access to consistent, sufficient and nutritious food is a primary global agenda. The concern that the world might be unable to feed an exponentially growing global population estimated to be over 9 billion people by 2050 has added impetus to search for solutions to food insecurity.
To many, the solution lies in the innovative application of land policies. The land is a key determinant of social, economic and political development. Its management has shaped the development trajectory of many communities and countries. Given the finite nature of land resources, sustainable utilisation requires establishing an innovative sustainable policy framework.
In attempts to address food security and promote national development and poverty eradication, Kenya, has developed various policy instruments to guide land utilisation. However, due to the social, economic, and political nature of land and its attendant challenges, most of these policies have been ineffective, hence failing to attain national food self-sufficiency.
Existing policy framework
Policies enunciated in the Sessional Paper No.1 of 1965 on African socialism, and its application in Kenya was influenced by the cold war international order. Despite the national leaders’ public denial of the two schools of thought- capitalism and socialism- the Africanisation process implicitly borrowed heavily from them.
For instance, after independence, the new power elites had access to most settler farmland depicting capitalism tendencies, while the adoption of Harambee (call to unity) spirit showed socialism tendencies.
Following the failure of African socialism and subsequent policies to eradicate poverty and ensure food security, Sessional Paper No.3 of 2009 on National Land Policy sought to establish a guide geared towards efficient, sustainable and equitable land use for prosperity posterity. This policy framework informed Chapter Five on Land and Environment in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, believing that land productivity, especially in the Agriculture sector, would improve.
Conversely, the fortunes in the agriculture sector kept dwindling, and food insecurity persisted. Notably, the food challenges are attributed to unsustainable agricultural practices and climate change.
Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2017 on National Land Use policy premised on the principle of food security and economic development was initiated to deal with sustainable utilisation of land resources.
This policy predicates sustainable food production on a holistic approach to land management and utilisation. Thus, innovative ways of harmonising different land policies and institutions will be impactful.
The implementation challenge
Firstly, there is a need for thorough engagement of citizens. The Constitution of Kenya identifies public participation as key in the management of resources. Therefore, civic education would raise the citizens’ awareness of sustainable management and utilisation of land and effectively get involved.
Land reform is sensitive and emotive because of the land’s cultural attachment, economic and political nature. Thus any meaningful progress in sustainable and productive land use requires comprehensive consultations and consensus that upholds transparency and the rule of law as the key pillars underpinning the reform process.
The decentralisation of land policies and institutions means that land productivity will depend on the institutions’ ability to seamlessly work collaboratively, aiming to improve productivity, especially in the agriculture sector.
With land in Kenya divided into different ecological zones, where several counties share similar climatic conditions, clustering counties into different economic zones with similar agricultural production potential must be encouraged. Clustering strategy is essential for it to could allow consolidation of small farms. Importantly, it could enable the collaborative development of infrastructure among counties.
It is important to note that post-harvest food loss is a major cause of food insecurity for most developing economies. Hence, getting counties to develop infrastructure such as cold-room storage facilities collectively is a significant step to prevent such losses.
The clusters could also bolster industrialisation within counties to achieve economies of scale through aggregation. According to the 2020 Africa Agriculture Status Report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Agri-food trade is an important factor in ensuring access to food; since areas facing scarcity can obtain food from places with a surplus. Therefore, counties must specialise in producing different agricultural products suitable to their ecological zones to augment their comparative advantage.
National government’s role
Through the Ministry of Agriculture, the national government must ensure that it invests adequate agricultural research resources in its function of formulating and coordinating land policies. Studies have shown that inaccessibility to better quality seeds, fertilisers, and other farm inputs negatively impact smallholder productivity. Therefore, a concerted effort must be put to increase national budgetary allocation to agricultural research to spur agricultural growth and development.
Further, effective implementation of land policies must consider international commitments such as the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture. The Agriculture Ministry’s responsibility is to follow up on the country’s international obligation, ensuring no contradiction could hinder proper utilisation of national land resources.
For instance, the WTO Agreement on Agriculture prohibits direct government support to the agricultural production process. This has a bearing on the nature of investment the country makes in the agriculture sector. Hence the need for sufficient and continuous engagement with global partners to ensure the country is within the bounds of international law.
Consequently, the country must place mechanisms to prevent the land-grabbing phenomenon where foreign investors acquire land for speculative purposes. To effectively tackle this challenge, enough scrutiny is required before signing any large land transactions. This will enable the country to prevent hoarding while optimising land utilisation for maximum agricultural productivity.
Shadrack Agaki is an international food system policy analyst. He is also a communication & political advisor to West Mugirango Constituency MP