Kenya, like China, can use agriculture to achieve rural transformation
Wednesday, February 24th, 2021
By Adhere Cavince
In 1963, Kenya’s GDP Per Capita was nearly one and half larger than that of China. Yet in just three decades ending in 2020, China lifted over 850 million people out of extreme poverty; becoming the first developing country to achieve the first of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Contrary to many countries where development is often associated with investments in cities and other urban centres, China prioritized rural areas in its poverty reduction efforts where agriculture played a major role.
China’s efforts offer good insights for Kenya’s socio-economic transformation. Since 1949 when the Republic was founded, China’s agriculture has undergone a series of improvements spanning land reforms, agricultural cooperatives, and marketization. Hoisted by modern farming methods, targeted institutions as well as progressive policies, the shift from subsistence to comprehensive agricultural production, economically empowered China’s rural majority, and formed a key component of its poverty reduction feat.
Like China, Kenya must move beyond traditional one dimensional agriculture into a multifaceted enterprise driven by science and technology. In this way, the country could realize low consumption, high quality and efficiency in its agricultural value chains. Through the Big Four Agenda, Kenya has set ambitious targets to ensure 100% food security for its population. The blueprint is also set to foster the country’s agro processing capacity while cutting malnutrition among children under five by up to 27%. That task has only been made more challenging by the Covid-19 global pandemic and the locust invasion that are pushing thousands of Kenyan households into extreme poverty.
With over 72% of the Kenyan population living in rural areas, poverty reduction programmes should target this group, and agriculture remains the strongest vehicle to deliver economic sustainability and food security. This approach has proven effective for China and a crucial learning point for many other countries and stakeholders around the world.
Another learning point touches on the use of information communication technologies in marketing agricultural produce. The Taobao village model, has for example, enabled millions of farmers to reach far placed clients, thanks to the power and reach of the internet. This has not only led to a more inclusive growth but also multiplier industries such as logistics, which is critical in ensuring the products reach the buyers.
Besides being home to accomplished researchers, Kenyan universities such as the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology have honed a number of innovations that could be tapped to foster food and wealth production. JKUAT also hosts the Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre, a facility which offers talent cultivation and technology transfer channel from China through agricultural demonstration.
In the wake of climate change, Kenya’s farming practices should also be anchored on sustainable ecological conservation practices. The country continues to bear the brunt of global warming with floods, droughts and erratic rainfall further compounding its agricultural prospects. Kenya therefore needs to place a premium on environmental conservation including on soil and water conservation. Green recovery is now a matter of priority as countries seek to turnaround their economies from the Covid-19 turmoil. Agriculture is a key vehicle to deliver this promise while spurring attendant sectors such as manufacturing and processing.
The World Bank projects that 36% of the Kenyan population is currently trapped in poverty, with national poverty reduction pace of about one percentage point per year. Because of the intervening variables like the global pandemic, it may not be possible for Kenya to achieve the UN goal of eradicating poverty in all its forms by 2030.
New approaches based on globally sourced proven best practices while engineering endogenous capacity to effect a more targeted approach to poverty reduction are therefore needed. In China, Kenya has much to learn in terms of leveraging agriculture within rural spaces to quicken its inclusive socio-economic development.
The writer is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa cooperation. Twitter: @Cavinceworld.