BY VIOLET MBITI
Agricultural land in arid and semi-arid areas still remains underutilised yet it has the potential to improve food security, nutrition and in general Kenya’s economy. Arid and Semi-Arid Lands rely on seasonal rainfall.
ASAL remain idle for most part of the year as the crops grown by small-scale farmers are limited due to unfavourable climate. There is need to transform agriculture from small-scale and rain-fed to large-scale and irrigation-fed to ensure food production all year round.
Irrigation plays a critical role in ensuring sustainability of agribusiness projects. Irrigation can effectively help increase productivity in agriculture and enhance land use.
The Water Master Plan states that utilisation of irrigation in Kenya has been low, bearing in mind the country has an irrigation potential of 1,341,900 hectares (3,315,907 acres) but only 161,840 hectares (399,915) have been developed.
Engaging the youth in active utilisation of the land is the key ingredient to improving food security. The National Irrigation Draft Policy 2015 states that the annual growth rate of new irrigated area is less than one per cent. Drastic measures are needed to reverse this situation.
The policy states that jobs can be created through irrigation at the rate of 15 persons per acre directly and indirectly. Treasury has channelled Sh13.8 billion to ongoing irrigation projects. This is an enormous opportunity and the amount should be invested wisely.
To employ this opportunity and counter unemployment, these resources can be channelled to productive activities among the youth. The national and county governments as well as private sector can acquire Arid and Semi-Arid Lands for youth to engage in large-scale farming and maximise on economies of scale.
A programme could be structured, where the youth enter into farming agreements with the government. Land could be leased to the youth as well as supporting them with resources to encourage them to engage in agribusiness. They could get support in terms of seeds, extension services, capacity building and produce marketing.
The government could also provide the youth with training in exchange for their labour. The sales arrangement could be 50 per cent for the government and 50 per cent for those employed. This will encourage the youth to work hard. The youth could further engage in value addition of their produce namely processing, branding, quality certification and accreditation.
In this we could take an example from Egypt. Egypt has succeeded greatly in reducing the number of unemployed graduates by reclaiming desert land for them and supporting them in their agricultural ventures through irrigation. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the proportion of successfully settled graduates in Egypt rose sharply from 25 per cent to 98 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
The investment of unemployed graduates in the rehabilitated desert land led to exportation of food to Italy, United States, Germany, Switzerland and other European nations. This attracted an international food company called Heinz, which decided to partner with them by purchasing tonnes of agricultural produce. The increased income by the settled graduates led to the development of schools, health centres and improved infrastructure in the surrounding communities.
When the national and county governments as well as private sector partner with youth in irrigating Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, food security will be enhanced. Furthermore, The Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and the Second Medium Term Plan 2013-2017 will be realised. This will make Kenya a food secure and prosperous nation through diversification and commercialisation of agriculture and create jobs for unemployed youth.
The writer is the head of the Programme Management Office at World Youth Parliament. email@example.com.