Agriculture will not be the same again. These are the words of Lee Karuri, chair of the Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET) steering committee as he handed over the mantle to Bimal Kantaria on Wednesday.
ASNET, launched in February by Agriculture Cabinet Sectretary Peter Munya is a special purpose vehicle that brings together agriculture sector support organizations and individuals to work together to make the industry regain its track as the key driver of Kenya’s economic development.
The body was formed through a partnership of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Kenya National Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the SDG Partnership platform of the United Nations with support from BAF, Elgon Kenya and like-minded business associations, partners and other stakeholders.
Dr Kantaria, the Managing Director of Elgon Kenya, will head a team of about 100 leaders picked from a cross section of industry players that underwent induction via a zoom gathering conducted from the Kepsa offices Wednesday. For the next three years, together with his deputy chair, former Kenya Flower Council CEO Jane Ngige, they will set in motion the envisaged 10-year transformation strategy of Kenya’s agriculture sector.
“We are happy to announce that we have officially inducted the new Board, Council, Advisors and Trustees of ASNET,” said Dr Kantaria. “We have around 100 leaders from the whole agriculture space”, he added.
The current team, that will be in office for three years will start working on July 1, 2020 and is expected to run on a Rapid Results Initiative within the Government Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), anchored on the Sustainable Development Goals.
ASNET has been in formation over the past one year, with Mr Karuri, a KEPSA Trustee as the steering committee chair. It was born out of realization that despite the existence of more than 100 organizations supporting the industry, the government and development partners wanted a single coordination agency through which earmarked transformation strategies could be implemented and coordinated, implemented and monitored to enable attainment of Pillar 4, of President Uhuru Kenyatta Big 4 Agenda on food security and job creation.
For the first time, Dr Kantaria said, government at national and county levels, development partners, private sector and non-governmental organizations have come together to find a common ground to steer agriculture on the right direction.
The private sector, he added has interests in a thriving agriculture sector because it creates more jobs, income and foreign exchange earnings more than any other sector yet it is massive untapped potential that could unlock inert wealth if it got the focus it deserves.
The missing link in tapping this potential, said Mr Karuri, has been a strong united voice that brings everyone on board to lobby for a workable framework which includes the required budgetary allocation and enhanced credit access for a sector whose 2.5 percent fiscal divide is not comensurate with its 65 per cent contribution to export earnings and 52 percent of job creation.
“Our agenda is to see to it that agriculture gets the recommended 10 % of national budget and up to 25 per cent credit access from the current 2.5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively’, said Mr Karuri.
Within the bigger scheme of things, the 90 percent smallholder farmers who are the bulk of growers will be supported to transform into commercial enterprises and possibly bring them together to form large-scale units of production for economies of scale.
Mr Karuri disclosed that Kenya produces 40 per cent of its food and imports the balance despite ability to harvest 100 per cent. ASNET seeks to bridge this gap and transform the country into a global agriculture export hub. “This can only work if we forge strong partnerships as represented by this network”, he said.
In what is a pointer to ASNET’s strenghth in achieving its goal, the organization is being supported by the United Nations SDG Platform, comprising of the International Fund for Agriculture Development, Food and Agriculture Organization. Arif Neky, the SDG Platform Senior Advisor said agriculture touches every aspect of the economy and Kenya was headed in the right direction. He added the sector is the surest bet to bounce back from the Covid-19 recession.
ASNET Board member Chris Wilson, the managing director of Kilifi Plantations summed up the optimism behind the push. “Restoring the good name of Kenya’s agriculture. Our coffee, tea, flowers, pyrethrum are the world’s best. We can feed Africa”.
The specific roadmap will be unveiled at an ASNET General Assembly next month.