Sustainable, nature-based agriculture and clean energy can be the cornerstone of development that starts at community level. 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 Kenya 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.

What is the paradigm shift that is needed to make the Big Four a reality? 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, but is resulting in viable enterprises that are recording a net present value of Ksh400,000. 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.

“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 Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) 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 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.

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.

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