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The livestock sector has for a long time been underfunded despite the push by advocacy groups to increase its budget. What is the ministry doing to address this?
The livestock sector has for a long time been underfunded despite the push by advocacy groups to increase its budget. What is the ministry doing to address this?

Livestock industry has been one of the most misunderstood sectors in this country. This is because livestock is considered a traditional asset.

Previously, it had no economic value as such, but if you look at it today, it contributes 12 per cent of the country’s GDP. It is a sector whose value is estimated at between Sh600 million to Sh1 billion. It is a sector which can employ a lot of people right from production, processing to marketing.

For a long time, I agree the sector has encountered budgetary constraints, but if you look at the last 10 years, it was elevated to a department. It then became a ministry and now it has been consolidated into a sector.

It has also been given a substantive principal secretary. Finances set aside for the livestock sector have improved over time, but we need to take it to the next level.

Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) has not performed well despite government support. What ails the institution?

You might recall the institution collapsed years ago and when the Narc Government came into power, they revived it by writing off a debt of Sh5 billion and injected another Sh2 billion.

When I came into office last year, we looked at it as a ministry and realised that the greatest cost driver at KMC is actually its obsolete plant. The equipment was installed in 1956. The payroll is too huge and third, it has undergone years of mismanagement to the extent that whatever money that was put in ended up consumed either by the inefficient plant, excess staff or mismanagement.

We now want to rehabilitate the plant by replacing all the machines with new ones. We want to automate it to a plant that uses less energy and takes short time in processing. Two, we want to downsize staff and this is urgent.

The next thing we want to do is marketing. We want to re-engage our lost markets in Middle East. These are markets that still hold the KMC brand in high esteem, but they don’t get enough supply.

We also want to create viable and beneficial arrangements with micro-financing institutions to lend to farmers. The issue of delaying payments to farmers or KMC lacking money to buy what it needs is gone. Machines will cost between Sh600 million and Sh700 million and downsizing between Sh200 million and Sh250 million.

What is being done to educate small-scale farmers on soil acidity and fertiliser application?

Agriculture is a devolved function and extension services are gone. We urge county governments to continue with extension services. We urge farmers to go and test their soil so that they may know the specific nutrient they need. This will take time because some farmers are addicted to DAP, yet we have many fertilisers with chemicals specific to soil deficiency or need.

The national government is helping county governments buy mobile testing units. Once we get funding, we will buy a unit for every county to speed up soil testing.

What is its capacity of the fertiliser plant the government is planning to set up?

In five years, it will be producing 600,000 tonnes of blended fertiliser. But we will be expanding based on demand. The plant will serve Kenya and the whole of East Africa. The first phase will start commercial production in 2016. The plant will produce 150,000 tonnes of fertiliser.

It will start by blending because the investor is still struggling to secure raw materials locally. But he has informed us that he will source for phosphate from West Africa. He has also indicated that Kenya will provide him with natural gas.

Is the planned fertiliser factory viable seeing given that nearly all the required raw material has to be imported?

One thing we will achieve by having a local fertiliser plant will be to cut down freight cost, production, delivery time and port-handling charges. If we are cutting cost by 30 per cent and creating employment at the same time, isn’t that a good deal?

Harvesting rain water can boost agricultural production. What is the government doing to help small-scale farmers produce food without relying on rain-fed agriculture?

The climatic conditions have changed so rapidly that we can’t catch up with the changes. We have come up with approaches. One is to come up with agriculture that is predictable, this means irrigation. We also need to construct dams to tame flood waters.

Homes and schools also need to harvest rain water. These are measures we are working on with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. But we are also encouraging people to grow traditional crops that are resistant to rapid weather changes. If you look at arid and semi-arid areas, we are using irrigation and also growing traditional crops.

One of the policies the ministry has put focus on is urban and peri-urban (Upal) farming. Is this is a way of luring the youth into agriculture?

Instead of people putting undue pressure on agricultural land, they can plant fruits and vegetables in gunny bags or roof tops. This is one way of ensuring we are food-secure. Through Upal, we want to engage youths and it will be one way of ensuring people don’t go and buy food grown along sewage lines. We want the youth, both in urban and rural areas, to embrace agriculture and we will support them.

Kenya has received another extension for Comesa safeguards on sugar, but can we meet the one year deadline?

It’s a very short time but as a ministry, we are ready to ensure we meet the requirements. One obligation is to privatise sugar mills.
My counterparts in Treasury are overseeing this. The Bill is already in Parliament. The next guideline is the normal intervention paying on sucrose content as opposed to cane tonnage.

We are also building access road in partnership with the European Union. The regulations also expect us to open the market to other players, but this has happened already. Once we privatise the sector, it will be up to each miller to meet other requirements.

Really, one year is very tight, but we are fighting to meet the deadline.