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November 19, 2008

Kenya to increase spending on agriculture

The Kenyan government said it will boost spending on agriculture next year by allocating eight percent of the national budget to the industry to increase food production.

President Mwai Kibaki said the East African nation's increase of its budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector is aimed at transforming the sector into a commercially viable business.

Kenya will become the grain basket for the East African region, said Kibaki, noting that the allocation will be raised from 4.5 percent.

"We have the potential to become the grain basket for this region and beyond. Our farmers are capable of doubling productivity so that we have food security for our people and a surplus for export," Kibaki told an agriculture conference in Nairobi.

"And more importantly, there is an urgent need to assist farmers to form co-operatives that will enable them to engage in agro-processing in order to add value to their products and expand their income base."

Kibaki who did not disclose how much will be allocated to the agriculture sector underscored the achievements his government has made in the agriculture sector since 2003 when he came into power. He said the government is still committed to ensuring that production is enhanced for the country's food security.

"Our farmers are capable of doubling productivity so that we have food security for our people and a surplus for export," he said.

He told farmers that they must also be prepared to adopt modern technology and also faulted some farmers for failing to embrace modern technology to improve their farming despite getting all the supports from the government.

"I am aware of the emerging challenges such as the high food prices caused by escalating prices of fuel and fertilizers internationally. As a result, the local prices of cereals, especially maize and wheat have increased significantly," he said.

"We cannot allow this trend to continue because a majority of the low income earners are now spending most of their daily earnings on food," said President Kibaki.

He said the Kenya will invest 4.3 billion shillings (about 56 million U.S. dollars) over the next five years to develop small-scale irrigation projects. Part of the money has been provided by the Tunis-based African Development Bank and Rome's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"With support from the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, we will be investing 4.3 billion shillings over the next five years to develop small- scale irrigation projects and marketing infrastructure for horticultural crops," he said. "I urge farmers to take advantage of this investment and grow more high-value crops such as flowers, soya beans, French beans, fruits, herbs and spices for sale at the regional and international markets."

He said the IFAD and the Kenyan government have already established eight small irrigation projects covering a total of 397 hectares.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto said about 3.5 million people are currently in need of food aid and noted that to keep in line with the Maputo Declaration, the government must increase its budgetary allocation to 10 percent of the country's total budget.

This was the commitment made by Heads of States and Government from the African continent during a meeting in Maputo in Mozambique in 2003.

Ruto said the sector, which produces 60 percent of the country's foreign exchange, is allocated only 4.5 percent of the total budget.

The country is a net importer of rice and wheat and it is the world's biggest exporter of black tea and the source of some of the best-quality coffee.

Ruto stressed that the economy of the country largely depends on agriculture, adding that, "we need to finance the sector which has the goose that lays the golden eggs."

"Kenya is at the threshold of moving into the next level. We have all the resources. Our people are innovative, they are hard-working and we have good climatic conditions. We can move this country," Ruto said.

Xinhua

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