Food shortages likely to persist even after August elections

Kenyans should tighten their belts in preparation for hard times beyond the August 8 General Election. Experts are warning that the current food shortage in the country is likely to persist.

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Consumer Price Index (CPI), measured as the weighted average of prices of goods and services, increased by an average of 0.75 per cent between April and May 2017 with food and non-alcoholic beverages CPI dramatically shooting up by 21.5 per cent between May 2016 and May 2017.

The overall inflation rate jumped to 11.70 per cent in May 2017 from 5.0 per cent in May 2016.

Marketwise, between May 2016 and May 2017, the price of sugar leaped from Sh110 to Sh170 per kilo; milk from Sh50 to Sh65 per 500ml packet and maize grains from Sh85 to Sh130 per 2kg container. The galloping inflation is a headache for the employed and teeth-gnasher for the unemployed.

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The inflation is so severe that a few weeks ago, the Jubilee government threw in a maize subsidy to tame the run-away price of the commodity, which is a staple food for the majority of Kenyans.

Keep scouting

The question is - for how long will the subsidy last? And for how long will we keep scouting for maize from outside to feed people when we are capable of producing our own?

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture indicates that the country had only 9.5 million bags of maize as at October 2016, with annual consumption demands standing at about 40 million bags of maize.

The current food shortages and escalating prices being experienced in the country are only a tip of the iceberg. The situation is likely to worsen soon as fall armyworms have struck maize farms, devouring these and other grains and cereals.

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Meanwhile, shrewd wheat entrepreneurs have spotted opportunities in the maize business and have turned their hoes to maize farming, abandoning the comparatively less profitable business of wheat.

This sudden shift of enterprises is likely to trigger a shortage of wheat in the country, plunging the economy further into a crunch.

The ripple effect of the scourge did not spare the milk sub-sector. Milk supplies to creameries dwindled substantially and in effect led to an increase in milk prices. Likewise, tea, the leading foreign exchange earner, succumbed to the intense heat, leaving farmers with little quantities to offer the factories.

As a result, plantation as well as small-scale tea farmers under the Kenya Tea Development Agency will certainly earn less income this year compared to last year.

Food security

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As leaders traverse the country thumping their chests in a show of might during the ongoing political campaigns, they need to rethink how to contain the onslaught of food insecurity and runaway inflation in the country.

Interestingly enough, the maize subsidy model robs budgetary allocations from one sector to another. In the long run, this budget trade-off may stagnate economic development.

Not long ago, the State embarked on the Galana Kulalu Food Security Project in Kilifi and Tana River counties to supplement food production from the traditional food basket regions of North Rift. This was the largest irrigation project in the country, but sadly, the titanic farm seems to have failed.

Wake-up call

The aftermath of the recent drought should be a wake-up call for policy makers and the State, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, to craft a raft of measures to curtail the current food shortages. Quick fixes alone will not work.

The State should consider heightening its use of better and more relevant technologies to boost production; attract youths to farming by offering incentives; harvest rain water for irrigation; upgrade rural roads networks to improve food supplies to urban areas; venture into sustainable large-scale farming and encourage small-holder farmers to aggregate their produce for economies of scale.

This can only be possible if the State provides a systematic approach to food security, applying institutional-wide measures and taking affirmative action through best practices to advance food production.

And on their part, citizens must exercise the responsibility required to elect leaders of integrity.

 Mr Bosire is a communications specialist based in Nairobi. [email protected]

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