Kenya‘s importing onions from China speaks volumes about the void of promises the government has made over the years to empower local farmers and even achieve food supplies.
There is no doubt that the country has the capacity to produce not only onions but other foods that are imported. Heavy imports of agricultural products could paralyze the local agricultural sector, a critical pillar for the Kenyan economy.
This is a sector that the government should do whatever it can to protect, considering how many people depend on it. It also flows into other sectors such as manufacturing and transport. The sector contributes about a third of the gross domestic product and employs Kenyans in large numbers – including 70 percent of the people who live in rural areas.
The importance of agriculture for the Kenyan economy is undisputed. And while overt protectionism should not be advocated, the government should consider incentivizing local farmers to produce competitively so that their produce can be traded cheaply compared to imports.
China, whose onions are controversial today, incentivizes its farmers and when they put their products on the market they are among the cheapest.
Creating a empowering environment for local farmers is key to achieving one of the Jubilee Government’s legacy projects under the Big Four – Food Security.
It is commendable that Kenya and its partner states in the East African Community have taken measures in their respective households for farmers in the region by imposing a 30 percent excise tax on vegetable imports.
However, EAC, and Kenya in particular, should do more to ensure that more is produced locally and cheaply to beat the cheap imports.