In the last few weeks, we have seen images of people who are starving in parts of our country due to the biting drought.
There is no doubt people are suffering due to the dry spell that has persisted over the last one year. The issue of ending drought emergencies is an issue of poverty.
Most of the challenges people are facing are not because there is a shortage of food. Last week I visited Turkana, the perceived epicenter of the drought stories, and my observation is that food is in plenty, therefore people are not dying because there isn't enough food. The purchasing power is what people lack and that partly has to do with poverty, even though inability to access affordable foodstuffs can largely be attributed to drought. However, poverty needs to be eradicated.
Eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 is the first goal in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Realistically, this goal might not be achieved considering we have about 10 years to fulfill this requirement. Poverty though, is a vague term. Scholars differ on what constitutes poverty; does it affect monetary incomes or less tangible factors such as marginalisation, vulnerability, insecurity or dependence on other people? Some people feel poor if they cannot afford things that are available to other people in their community.
People generally refer to material deprivations such as not having enough money, employment, food clothing and housing combined with inadequate access to health services and clean water. International standards of measuring poverty is quantifying the amounts of money people live on, generally between US$1 to US$2 per day.
In Kenya, poor people are vulnerable to risks. Particularly people in the rural areas who depend on agriculture might face risks from poor harvest due to inadequate rainfall or lack of access to markets for their produce as a result of poor infrastructure and high transport costs.
In Garissa along the River Tana, one farmer said they are forced to dump a large part of their perishable produce due to their inability to transport them to the main markets where prices are better.
Being an agrarian country, the only way for farmers to sufficiently access the markets and maximise on their profits is form cooperatives that can give them leverage through economies of scale.
Across the globe the Agri-processing businesses are dominated by few international companies because most of these own the entire chain. Take the example of Brooke Bond, a multinational company that produces, transports and processes tea. This company has monopolised the entire chain giving it comparative advantage in terms of pricing due to economy of scale and the network to access their produce to the market.
Recently while visiting Qatar, I ended up in the main fresh vegetable market. Qatar is a country that imports anything that is edible. A quick scan gave me a clear impression that the Kenyan farmers are not represented in the group of farmers who export their produce to Qatar. Clearly, the Kenyan farmers do not engage is serious marketing efforts.
During the last devolution conference I was impressed by the words of Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru. In my view, she has understood the international dynamics of trade because she stated that her county has already ventured into the business of marketing their produce in the international market taking away the role of the middlemen who take away a large junk of the profit.
Poverty, therefore, is a direct product of our farmer’s inability to use economies of scale to take advantage of the demand for our produce. The vulnerability of our farmers and people in the rural areas is definitely as a result of decades of exclusion from government investment.
However, poverty is catching up with people who previously were beneficiaries of state interventions. During conference organized by the Ministry of Devolutions and ASALs, the government increased the number of ASAL counties from 17 to 32.
This was as results of counties that were previously considered high potential areas, now feeling their people are also marginalized.
It is not really about exclusion, but a large section of the people in the rural areas are now experiencing high poverty indexes. This is also why people become vulnerable to drought.
Mr Guleid is the Executive Director of the Frontier Counties Development Council
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