Third Eye

Political will key in agriculture reforms

Monday, July 4th, 2022 02:20 | By
Tea farmers pick tea. Photo/File
Tea farmers pick tea. Photo/File

That tea farmers are set to earn more money later this month as ‘bonus’ is welcome news considering that the cost of living has been on the rise. It will mean that farmers, who will receive about Sh37 billion, will get fair rewards for their efforts. What is more, this will mark a turn around after three years of declining payouts.

For many years, farmers have been recording low earnings despite the effort they put in boosting production, and not just for tea. The improvement in earnings in the tea sub-sector, therefore, sends the signal that it is possible for other cash crop farmers to benefit if reforms in agriculture are pushed through. Part of the reason why tea farmers will be paid more has to do with the fact that there was political will to address the challenges that the sub-sector faced. This is the same commitment and dedication needed with other crops as well, including maize and wheat.

At the moment, Kenya is importing the grains yet, with better incentives and management, it is possible to encourage Kenyan farmers to raise production. As it is, however, grain farmers are not benefiting because they recorded poor harvests, largely because they practice rain-fed agriculture. This is a trend that the government ought to start discouraging so that farming can be done under irrigation to ensure sufficient production each year. As such, even as we congratulate the government, and the Kenya Tea Development Agency, for ensuring that tea farmers’ earnings are up, there is still need for the same effort to be dedicated to other crops.

Secondly, we must also caution the government to raise the hopes of farmers too high because part of the reason the earnings have gone up has to do with Kenya’s exchange rate. At present, the shilling is exchanging at about Sh117 to the dollar and this has pushed up payouts because tea is paid for in dollars. However, if the shilling becomes stronger, tea farmers’ earning will dip, and this is why it is important to engage farmers in civic education so that they understand why their income is up. That way, when the shilling becomes stronger, they will not complain or feel that they have been short-changed.

And with increased incomes, the farmers will also need financial literacy so that they can invest the money in profitable ventures, such as investments, in addition to savings, keeping their children in school and meeting other family obligations. That way, they will enjoy the benefit of their sweat for longer.

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