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A stunted agriculture sector

The prime minister announced in his state of the nation report that the government would work towards ensuring food self-sufficiency and reducing import.

A few days earlier, the royal audit authority released the performance audi report on food security in the country. The findings are worrying. Except for fruits and eggs, we are not self sufficient in any other food commodities. Because food independence strengthens national independence addressing food security issues would require the government to do more than just aim for import substitution. It calls for an overhaul in the way we treat the agriculture sector.

Rice is the most important and staple diet in the country. The audit report points out that its production is synonymous to food security but that we are only 45 percent self sufficient. We did not meet most of the last plan’s food production targets. More than half of our food basket comprise of imported food, leaving the country vulnerable to policies and prices of India. The prime minister announced that the revised National Food Security Reserve was approved in June 2018 to ensure adequate food stock reserve of essential food commodities is maintained at all times. The audit found the food reserve was not maintained. Should a major disaster strike the country, we know we are ill-prepared even with food supplies.

The shortage of irrigation water in several parts of the country today is indicative of our failed policies and plans. We are unable to grow more rice and are food insecure because we have not given irrigation a priority. Dry and broken irrigation canals have forced farmers, who are willing to work leave their fields fallow. We are abandoning homes in the villages for a life in the cities that are grappling with drinking water shortage. The cities, where policy makers live and take decisions for those in rural farms are becoming unliveable by the day.

Policy decisions such as budget allocation for agriculture, the biggest employer in the country has seen the biggest cut over the plan periods. The ministry for agriculture and forests, the lead agency in ensuring the country’s food security is stretched between two priority sectors – agriculture and forests. Agriculture does not receive enough attention or as much as the forests sector. The state of our food insecurity and our farmers who are the least happy group in the country are enough to show the consequences of our neglect.

The realities we are confronted with today and the questions the prime minister raised while presenting the state of the nation report have come at a time when our eating habits and lifestyle have burdened our healthcare system. They have come at a time when we are becoming a fat rich country with poor eating habits, one that aspired to become self sufficient in food since the development process began but continues to import cheap food.

We are on the threshold of transitioning from the least developed country status but still food insecure. A stunted agriculture sector has made an agrarian country dependent on food imports.

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