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What Kenya’s Big Four Agenda can do for the country and the continent

Sustainable, nature-based agriculture and clean energy can be the cornerstone of development that starts at community level, says Dr Richard Munang and Robert Mgendi.



“Having rain clouds is not the same as having rain.” This proverb reminds us that potential remains valueless unless harnessed. Kenya’s Big Four priorities, as they are fondly referred to, are potent and ambitious, providing an opportunity for Africa to drive transformational change. The Big Four are food security, manufacturing, health and housing, and they represent the pillars of the Kenya that we all strive for: a middle-income, industrialised nation with a climate resilient, inclusive economy, offering a high quality of life for its people.

A Sense of Urgency

Just as “aiming isn’t hitting”, achieving this ambition in the set five years will take more than its fluent articulation, especially considering the low base from which Kenya (and many other African countries) are starting. Consider  food insecurity, for example: Despite the eloquence of Article 43 (1) (c) of Kenya’s constitution – which guarantees to every Kenyan the right to food – the number of food-insecure persons is projected to increase by half a million in 2018, while postharvest losses (PHLs) top US$500 million each year. This is not only a loss of food but of manufacturing and job opportunities. Another case in point is climate change, which is costing Kenya up to US$0,5 billion each year and is projected to escalate to an annual loss of 2,6% of GDP by 2030. This hamstrings the long-term growth of the entire economy. This low base is our resounding call to action – we must do things differently.

Tea pickers in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region, for the Two Degrees Up project, to look at the impact of climate change on agriculture.
Image Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

What is the paradigm shift that is needed to make the Big Four a reality?

Kenya, and other countries in the region, must maximise productivity of the sectors in which they hold a comparative advantage in resources. Sustainable, nature-based agriculture and clean energy stand out. To maximise productivity, developments in these sectors should be done hand in hand, and not in separate silos, as is usually the case. This amalgamation of the various sectors is an approach that has been endorsed at the highest levels of policy making on the continent – the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), the AU Agenda 2063, and by up to 80% of the African continent’s commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. These commitments are officially referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).


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There is much empirical proof of the potency of nature-based agriculture that uses clean energy. In Makueni County, Kenya, the use of minimum tillage, a nature-based ecological farming technique, on a one-and-a-half acre plot increased yields by over 300%. There were also the additional benefits of reduced labour and improved soil fertility. This is already in line with one of the Big Four – food security. In Ijara sub-county, processing of the aloe plant, an indigenous drought-resistant crop, is not only restoring degraded land to ensure climate adaptation (which is in line with Kenya’s NDCs), but is resulting in viable enterprises that are recording a net present value of US$4 000. This is a formidable step towards positioning enterprises at the community level. This empowers local communities, helping them to deliver a better quality of life and to finance not only their food security but health and housing. That is the Big Four actualised in one go. What is needed now is new and innovative policies that support the ground-level catalysts just described.

New and innovative financial policies that will drive change

“If ten cents does not go out, it does not bring in one thousand dollars.” This common saying in Ghana sums up the principle behind risk-sharing mechanisms that Kenya should urgently embrace to finance the Big Four – the multiplier effect. This means that financing is not a social expenditure in “flagship” government-run projects, but an incentive for enterprises based on sustainable, clean energy-powered agro-industrialisation. Returns on this kind of industrialisation will not only be social, but economic, financial and environmental. The vibrant Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) sector in Kenya, which forms 90% of the country’s private sector and employs the majority of Kenya’s skilled labour, provides fertile ground to establish and grow this enterprises-driven approach to the implementation of the Big Four. Government should focus on incentivising cooperatives and micro-finance institutions to lend affordably to enterprises that are aligned with the catalytic sectors – rather than directly financing projects. The structure for such a move is already taking shape at community level.

Feed the Future Kenya AVCD Regional County Launch and County field tours Photo Credit Flickr

Through the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) policy-action framework, stakeholders are forming market-driven partnerships. In Kenya, a farmer’s cooperative is working with a clean energy company to develop flexible and affordable clean-energy financing for cooperative members so that they can acquire clean energy systems which they would use communally to power agro-processing. For now, the focus is on solar-powered micro-irrigation and solar driers. The result is beneficial socioeconomically and in terms of the climate. Socioeconomically, farmers have improved their income and community food security because the solar irrigation and driers have reduced crop failure and postharvest losses. Higher incomes for the members of the cooperative means they can afford better healthcare and housing. In addition, creating such work opportunities in the rural areas reduces the influx of people into cities, which is driving the growth of informal settlements.

Different ministries must work together


Successfully driving the implementation of the Big Four through sustainable, clean energy-powered industrialisation will require that policies across relevant ministries be implemented in a complementary manner. For example, energy policies that decentralise clean energy will need to be implemented in synchrony with agricultural policies that address climate-smart agriculture approaches. Agriculture needs to work with transport infrastructure to make sure that produce gets to the market efficiently. This would maximise the farmers’ income. Agriculture needs to work with the ministry of trade to secure markets for what is produced. The resultant sustainable agro-industrialization would mean that, for instance, the more than US$500million that is currently lost through PHLs in Kenya is instead channelled into enterprises, income savings and job opportunities – all factors that would drive the Big Four.

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Market incentives are all-important

In today’s market-driven economies, implementing the Big Four will need to be market driven to safeguard its long-term sustainability. The recent signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), represents the most robust market enabler we have. It is set to consolidate an over 1,2 billion people-strong market with a combined GDP of over US$3,4 trillion. Kenya has gone ahead to become the first country to ratify this deal. Turning this deal into a market pull factor to drive implementation of the Big Four is an urgent priority for Kenya.

Already, the “EBAFOSA compliance standard”, which is a quality standard that will be applied universally in the 40 countries across Africa – is being put in place. This standard builds on already existing approved standards across Africa by merging them into one consolidated standard – one that takes care of quality, health and environmental aspects. This standard will open up access to the markets of all 40 countries.



It is clear that achieving the glorious promise of the Big Four calls for a paradigm shift away from the conventional approach, where importance is put on “budgets” and upfront financing – to leveraging on what Kenya already has: its people and the diversity of the skills, talents and ongoing work they represent. This is truly the paradigm shift that can see Kenya set an example in a way never seen before to the entire Africa to drive transformational change for people and planet.

Dr. Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang

Mr. Robert Mgendi is the Adaptation Policy Expert

The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which they are affiliated