Kenya: How Government Can Best Spend the World Bank’s S5 Billion

What can you do with S5 billion?

This is the amount the World Bank has advanced to Kenya for youth programs.

The funds have come at an opportune moment and we must be grateful, but we must have the wisdom to exploit other available resources and create a sustainable enterprise that would repay the entire amount in the near term.

We have resources that we have never thanked God for. No one chooses the country of his or her birth and we should always be thankful to God for making it possible to be where we are. Unfortunately, many forget this fact and spend their lifetime complaining that God did not provide to make them better.

I have a very different idea on how we might spend the S5 billion. To start, I would propose that we have to forget the past and start anew.

As far as I can remember, Kenyans have always complained that only 20 per cent of their land is arable. The rest of the country’s large swathes of land are semi-arid or arid, and lie idle.

This is where we go wrong. Although we send many delegates to Israel to learn from them how to utilise dry lands, nothing tangible ever comes from these visits. Kenyans get next to no value from all the benchmarking trips made by officials.

Whilst Israel continues to get richer and richer from desert land, Kenya struggles to get out of poverty because of the erroneous belief that its semi-arid lands are unproductive.

TURKWEL OASIS

Those who have attempted to change the course of our thoughts with arid land have reaped big. Only a few farmers have developed vineyards in Naivasha and Yatta, but local wine brands like Leleshwa have sprung up and are as competitive as wine from any part of the world.

In essence, the proof of concept has been successful but that begs another question: why haven’t we expanded the acreage and created more export opportunities and employment?

Why don’t we try to move out of adversity with the resources we get from time to time?

The answer to these questions is that it is easier to explain negative thoughts than to commit to transform a sad situation into an opportunity. We’d rather say that the rains have failed us than convert River Turkwel into an oasis of prosperity in as desolate a place as Turkana.

Who said we couldn’t spend a little money from the S5 billion to grow olive trees in Kitui?

This arid land is perhaps much greener than the olive plantations of Tunisia, the world’s second largest producer of olive oil after Spain, according to the Olive Oil Times. Tunisia earned close to $1 billion in revenue from olive oil exports in 2014/2015.

NO NEW CROPS

The fact that we experience similar temperatures have not persuaded us to try growing relevant crops in a seemingly desperate situation.

The people of Kitui remain poor while attempting to grow maize, perhaps the one crop that will never do well in that part of Kenya.

It is astounding that after more than 50 years, we have never introduced any new crop into the stock of crops introduced by colonists.

Some 22 years ago, South Africa had about 1,000 hectares of olive oil but by 2014, they had increased the acreage to more than 6,000 hectares.

South Africa today is among the leading producers of olive oil. Since 1994, the growth of olive oil production has been phenomenal. In a June 28, 2011 article, “South African olive oil goes wild”, Alice Alechon writes:

South Africans are growing more olives both for the table olive market and the production of olive oil. New trees are constantly being planted with olive farms growing at a rate of 20 percent annually and doubling in size every four to five years.

A county like Kajiado could be changed with very little investment in the right places. Recently, a resident of the county was asking neighbours what the plants outside his house, which had some quite interesting fruits, were.

THE WRONG PALM SPECIES

It turned out they were two pomegranate plants that a previous owner of the house had planted. He later learnt that a single pomegranate at a local supermarkets cost S,200. And so outside his house hangs more than Sh50,000 but the owner is ignorant of this value.

Because of its many health benefits, local demand for the pomegranate has risen, but virtually all of what is consumed is imported. Meanwhile, thousands of youth languish in the corridors of unemployment.

If invested wisely, some Sh500 million would change the lives of many in Northern Kenya, a place that is conducive for growing date palms.

The coastal regions of Africa are home to many varieties of palm trees, but none is grown for the production of dates, a very lucrative desert fruit. So we grow the wrong palm species and complain about poverty.

We need to introduce date farming as a matter of urgency.

However, even while we start cultivating the new crops, we should convert the coconut, which we have in plenty, into oils that we now import. A pilot project is already underway in Kwale but these youths desperately need some capital.

SOAP AND SILKWORMS

Earlier studies have shown that much of the bare land at the coast could be used to start a palm oil industry. Some S billion would provide a fairly sustainable enterprise growing this new crop.

In the meantime, other youths could be trained to make soap from imported palm oil from other parts of the world in the anticipation that locally produced materials would be used in future.

In Makueni, Machakos and Kitui, Ricinus communis, the plant that produces castor oil, grows wild. The youth could be helped to start a bio-fuel industry.

Since castor is also the food for silkworms, a textile industry can be fired up in this part of the country. Already, infrastructure like the ginnery is in place there. Some Sh500 million can create a multi-billion dollar industry here if there is passion and commitment to help the youth here more sustainably.

As little as Sh2 billion could be used to develop supply chains for various kinds of produce.

In the recent past I wrote about how Murang’a poultry farmers undermine their produce in the market by failing to understand market dynamics. A similar situation obtains in Western Kenya. For instance, bananas from Kisii go to waste because of poor supply chain.

INFERIORITY COMPLEXES

Fish production in Lake Victoria too has many opportunities where a little of the S5 billion can be invested. Other resources should be invested in new value adding industries for dried foods as a strategy to improve food security.

Let us not use the S5 billion for unsustainable projects, as we have done in the past with Kazi Kwa Vijana and NYS.

God may never give everything that we desire but He has given to us the ability to think, to convert adversity into an opportunity and to change what may seem impossible to the possible. This is reason enough why we should be grateful to whatever challenge we find ourselves in.

Eleanor Roosevelt an American politician, diplomat, activist and America’s longest-serving First Lady once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

By whining and complaining about what we don’t possess, we may be consenting to inferiority complexes by failing to transform what God has given us into desirable outcomes through believing that we can truly change our status.

No one will do it for us and no one is holding us back.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito

Source: The Nation