By George Munene
According to the Principal Secretary for the State Department of Crop Development, Kello Harsama, the government is planning to lease out 500,000 acres of unused state land to private agriculture investors and heavily tax idle private land to help combat Kenya’s perennial food insecurity.
“In our quest to make Kenya food sufficient we will be leasing out 500,000 acres of unused state land owned by Agricultural Development Corporation, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Kenya Agricultural, and Livestock Research Organization, the National Youth Service, and publicly funded universities like Egerton among others to private investors. We have already had several applications and we assure them that they will be free to erect dams, dig boreholes to place this land under intensive agricultural use.
We also have prospective land buyers, some of whom are abroad, buying up large tracts of land in Mombasa, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Ngishu and leaving them idle. To remedy this we are looking to heavily tax such unutilised land with a view to encourage them to make the land productive,” said the PS during an interview with Kenyan radio station Spice FM.
According to USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) due to five concurrent failed planting seasons over 10 million remain at risk of acute hunger this year. Between February and May of this year, households in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties (18.8 million people) are facing food emergency, food crisis, or stressed food insecurity.
The Principal Secretary noted that only 1.5 million acres of Kenya’s 3 million acres of arable land are under crop production. Many more state organisations he said are sitting on large tracts of land that have never been used for any kind of production.
“A lot of large private land owners hoard big tracts and don’t agriculturally commercialise them as they lack the interest or don’t see farming as economically viable. What should be clear to them is that this government has a strong will to support farmers. As a government we have so many new initiatives which we assure farmers will offer them a ready market,” Kello said.
He added that the government was looking to establish six agro-processing hubs across Kenya with satellite agro-processing plants in different parts of the country. This will allow farmers across various value chains be able to take their crops for value-addition so that they can be easily marketed. “With these new initiatives, we believe that many of these landowners will take this advantage and open up this land.”