By Chris Silali and Chris Shimba
Elementary economics and entrepreneurship validates land as one of the key factors of production. Commonly defined as the part of the earth that is not covered by water, land goes beyond being a primary factor of production as it is also a precursor to human existence and an enabler of economic growth, thereby improving living standards. As such, there will be no terrestrial life without land because human beings generate their livelihoods from the flora and fauna that emanate from the land surface. Besides, land provides habitation where space is key to development of different niches from simple housing caves to complex manufacturing units.
As population grows, instead of benefiting from demographic dividends, human beings have over time developed methods of maximizing food production, transforming it from natural occurrences to a fully human controlled, efficient and convenient production systems(farming). Towards influencing food production, there is enhanced sufficiency and emergence of economic development activities which gained optimization during industrial revolution. The human controlled activities have fruitfully ensured maximization of land resource. While it is common knowledge that without land, human beings will struggle to exist, proper land use, which is key to sustainable human existence is taken lightly in most developing countries.
Generally, agriculture is the main source of food and feed related products. Overtime due to pressure from a globally growing population and socio-economic opportunities in agriculture, food production has undergone drastic technological developments post agrarian era. Majority of the technologies have sought to improve productivity, increase efficiency and sufficiency of food. This occurred through major economic activities and inventions right from the farm/land to sophisticated manufacturing businesses. While technology has driven increased productivity, appropriate application of these technologies is key to production maximization. List wise, the scale of operation, investment types, and ability to adopt and use these technologies would be the determining factors. Just like it is in other businesses, economies of scale play a key role to successful farming and set up of agro-enterprises towards ensuring food security as evidenced by most food-secure countries. But, technology advancement and mechanization is easier to implement on large parcels of land than on small scale.
Therefore, coming close home, if Kenya is to be food secure, the above lessons are a point of reference from the most food-secure countries of the West and Mid-east such as Egypt and Israel. As research shows, production in these countries have been supported by both proper land policies and government support functions. For example, Israel’s agriculture is characterized by high technological advancements, including pressure irrigation systems, automatic and controlled mechanization and high-quality seeds and inputs. This had enabled Israel to meet most of its food requirements through domestic production with a production level of over 5 million tons of field crops, 1.15 billion litres of milk, 1.6 billion eggs and 1.2 billion flowers for export as at 2006. Further, over 78% of the total arable land (377,300 hectares) is under cultivation. To manage water scarcity which is the main limiting factor in Israeli agriculture, the country depends on irrigation to increase its crop yields. All these are embedded in the country’s multi-annual plan, the basis of which is balancing soil conservation and continuation of agricultural activity via modern methods of cultivation, growth and land management.
Clearly, policies in these countries stipulates land usage for both developmental and agricultural purposes with clear demarcation of agricultural land, and its use. With effective proper land use, countries are able to identify crops and livestock farming enterprises that give them competitive advantage over the rest of the world and thereby produce sufficient quantities to export in exchange for what they don’t produce.
The Kenyan case presents a disappointing success to food security as the focus is centred on the propagation of smallholder agro-enterprises as a solution to rural development over a solid economic platform to secure the country from food shortage. Besides, vast tracts of land in Kenya are neither in use or underutilized, commonly classified as communal land or singular ownership with misplaced priorities and thereby lack of proper plan for usage. In addition, continued land fragmentation either for rightful inheritance or any other reason is another huge element of lost land utilities which has singularly pushed Kenya’s most productive land in a chaotic miasma of self-centered capitalistic acquisition and liberal usage without government intervention. With the need for prevention of cross pollination of seed growth, this land subdivision complicates the situation and demeans food security right from its foundation.
Therefore, as a country, we cannot continue to silently face food security crisis while most of our arable part of the country is being converted into settlements or being subdivided communally into units that don’t support any form of agricultural enterprise. Whereas, economic settlements can win some vote, there is need to support the vote with a clear action plan. As it stands currently, the reducing scale of productive land, lack of mechanization, low investments on farm and subsistence driven production system – cost of production per unit produce will always most likely be higher than the world average and make our agriculture noncompetitive. This will be exacerbated further as the world grows into a more sophisticated global web and commerce/markets continually assuming no boundaries subjecting Kenya to host inhabitants that can only provide a food market.
As it is, without proper land use policies, Kenya will never be able to move from the current situation but will stagnate at its downward spiral that is consuming its agricultural potential. With land issues remaining very political and emotive, it is only vital that land use and management in the country is supported by both functional policies and manifestos of various political parties especially at this time of campaigns. Further, need to Kenya quickly copes and adopt sweeping technological advancements in agriculture in the face of continuously and rapidly growing population. It would also be necessary that agricultural activity is sold to the Kenyan youth as a profitable venture that is not treated as an old profession reserved for retirement and rural dwellers. Besides, agriculture need to be practiced in the context of sustainable land management that serve to maintain ecological resilience. Equally, without proper government commitment in terms of budget allocation and interventions, food security will remain a fallacy.
Both Silali and Shimba work for Kenya Markets Trust, an organization that is funded by DFID and Gatsby Africa.