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Kenya : Why you could soon leave your land for town estates

Draft policy by Agriculture ministry proposes movement of millions of people in rural areas to settlement centres to consolidate arable land and boost food production

famT he face of farming and land ownership in Kenya could change radically if a new draft policy is adopted.

The policy proposes movement of millions of people in rural areas to town estates or settlement centres with a view to consolidate agriculture land and boost food production.

Resettlement of people would be undertaken by both the county and national governments, says Food: Our Health, Wealth and Security, a policy document prepared by Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, which Smart Company has seen.

Land owners would, however, not lose their title deeds but present physical boundaries would be dismantled to enable use of machinery and new technology in farming.

“This is in sync with the national land policy and will make it easy for the government to provide the public with water, power, roads and markets for the produce. Introduction of living in clusters will free land for agriculture, which will see production per unit area increase,” land expert Ibrahim Mwathane said.

Both national and county governments would be compelled to allocate a minimum of 10 per cent of their budget to agriculture, in line with Maputo declaration of 2003. The declaration stipulates that 10 per cent of the total national budget be allocated to agriculture to alleviate poverty, create jobs and enhance food security in Africa.

The policy’s recommendations on land consolidation and sub-division are likely to elicit mixed reaction. Past attempts to limit land sizes raised political temperatures. Land issues are always divisive in Kenya.

For instance, among the clauses on land in the proposed Constitution in 2005 was limiting sub-division of agriculture land to 2.5 acres. This proposal did not go down well with the residents of heavily populated parts of the country, especially Central Kenya and Kisii. This led to the defeat of the draft Constitution in the 2005 referendum.

“This policy is likely to work in settlement schemes, but not in typical smallholding areas where it will be an uphill task to deal with the various interests.

The policy should be realistic to anchor agriculture production to the land tenure system rather than attempt ways that will take long time to materialise. The suggested consolidation is co-operative approach,” said Mr Paul Mbuni, chairman of Kenya society of agriculture professionals.

“These reforms should also require legal framework spearheaded by ministry of Lands.” In the draft policy, the two levels of government would legislate on appropriate land sizes for various agriculture enterprises, including conservancies, based on ecological zones and economic potential.

Feasible plan “This is feasible plan, particularly in areas where there are no many permanent structures, as it will increase production per unit and enable the farmers enjoy the economies of scale. It has worked elsewhere, say in Japan, and it can also work here,” said Mr Mwenda Makathimo, a land economist.

The policy planners add that at the moment, private land is subject to uncontrolled sub-division and some pieces of land in many areas are fast approaching uneconomical levels.

Some heavily populated counties such as Kiambu have introduced zoning, on the basis of land use, but this plan has registered mixed success because land under private ownership is difficult to control.

Kajiado County has also been grappling with the land question. The county has been controlling the buying and selling of land with a view to accommodate residents’ varied interests that range from pastoralism, agriculture to real estate businesses.

“In densely populated rural rain-fed counties, the two levels of government, as a matter of public policy, must prescribe the minimum units that may not be subdivided any further. This will vary from county to county, but the guiding principle must be units that can economically support agriculture production including aquaculture,” the draft policy says.

“Where feasible, and this applies to many rain-fed regions with private land ownership, a carefully considered policy of re-consolidating land for agriculture production should be implemented.” The proposal requires counties to reserve parts of wards and locations for settlement so that the rest of the land is consolidated for agriculture.

“The owners will still hold their title deeds and harvest produce within the consolidated parcels,” the draft says.

Some experts say education and incentives would have to be used to convince individuals to cede ground and accept to have a common approach to farming.

The proposals are likely to attract resistance among landowners because land issues have been mishandled in the past, experts caution.

“The challenge is how to make the people understand and harness the concept, which might require education and incentives. For a start, the government can implement this in new schemes where settlement area is reserved and farming section demarcated. This is one way of reversing declining food production in the country,” said Mr Mwathane.

Use of machinery The plan, the policy document adds, would enable application of better farming methods such as use of machinery, hence making farming attractive to millions of youth. The proposal seeks to ensure increased funding for agriculture.

“The National Treasury needs to provide adequate financial incentives to actors at different stages of various agriculture value chain. Funding for agriculture, including livestock and fisheries, should not be less than 10 per cent of national budget. Cascaded to counties, a similar, if Agriculture draft policy not higher, allocation should go to the three subsectors,” says the draft policy.

The argument about budgetary allocation to agriculture has escalated over the years with the government maintaining that the 10 per cent includes money channelled to water, forestry and the environment given that the three contribute to the overall performance of agriculture. Experts in the industry have, however, noted that the government has been allocating less than five per cent to the segment.

With a budget allocation of 10 per cent, experts say would ensure enough resources to the industry that contributes 25 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product.

Experts say although funding for agriculture has been increasing in recent years, the amounts remain inadequate to have a significant impact on food security in the country.

The two levels of government would also be expected to develop and support implementation of policies that would encourage value-add investments agriculture industry.

This would involve organising producers into groups to create a mass that could supply processing companies with adequate raw materials. The counties and the national government would encourage the setting up of cottage industries for value addition of farm produce while investing in post-harvest technology to cut losses estimated at 30 per cent for grains due to pests and moisture.

-Nation.co.ke

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