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November 19, 2008

Kenya plans irrigation schemes to boost farm output

Kenya plans to invest 12.6 billion shillings on irrigation schemes to reduce its dependence on rain-fed agriculture and grow more high-value crops, President Mwai Kibaki has said.

Agriculture accounts for a quarter of gross domestic product in east Africa's largest economy, generating 45 percent of income and contributing more than half of foreign exchange earnings.

The rise in global food prices and fertilisers have driven up local food prices in Kenya, where the annual inflation rate was 28.4 percent in October. Stripping out food items, the rate was 13.0 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.

Kibaki said Kenya would invest 4.3 billion shillings over the next five years on small-scale irrigation projects and marketing infrastructure for horticultural crops, plus 8.3 billion to expand the Mwea irrigation scheme by 3,500 acres.

The schemes are supported by the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

"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 to the regional and international markets," Kibaki said.

"Nevertheless, we are still far from harnessing our full irrigation potential," he said, adding that government would target new investment in other suitable areas.

Kenya's agriculture minister said on Monday the government planned to raise spending on farming to 10 percent of its annual budget from 4.5 percent.

The extra funding will be used to develop markets for products such as tea and coffee, invest in sugar factories and provide affordable inputs such as fertiliser. Kenya is the world's biggest exporter of black tea.

As part of Kenya's long-term plan to become an industrialised country, the government hopes to expand the area of cultivated land by 1 million acres, boost productivity and build a plant to make fertilisers and agro-chemicals.

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