Corruption biggest threat to Kenya's food security dream

Galana Kulalu [File, Standard]

It is shameful when a country, whose main economic activity is agriculture, cannot grow enough to feed its populace. But that, sadly, is the case in Kenya.

At the moment, the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) reportedly holds only a million bags of maize, an amount barely enough to feed the nation for the next two weeks. Already, the Government has warned that more than two million Kenyans are at risk of starvation beginning this month. The number of people in need of food aid stood at 1.6 million in May.

Turkana, Marsabit, parts of Baringo, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River and Isiolo will be the hardest hit by the food shortage.

The National Drought Management Authority's (NDMA) latest report blames the shortage on the drought that ravaged many parts of the country earlier this year.

Kenyans have started to feel the pinch with the price of a two-kilo maize flour packet now retailing at Sh124.

Without doubt, if no action is taken, the country will soon be in the grip of a major food crisis and the usual script of hunger and anger will unfold. Pitiable images of scrawny, screaming children clinging on their skinny, helpless parents will once again dominate our media spaces.

Granted, the Government has been doing its best to ameliorate the situation, with Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa shuttling from one famine-hit county to the other doling out rations and assurances that no Kenyan would die from hunger.

But despite the assurances, a number of Kenyans were reported to have succumbed to hunger early in the year, but the Government was quick to deny this.

If current stocks at the SFR are anything to go by, it is crystal clear we will soon run out of maize—the country’s staple food. It is therefore imperative that the Government looks outwards for a solution.

Perhaps due to the politics and corruption that surround importation of maize, the Cabinet is still undecided on whether to open the floodgates for duty-free maize, months after Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri warned that the stocks were inadequate.

But there is no need for further procrastination. Considering the state of the SFR, and the warning that the lives of two million Kenyans are at stake, the Government ought to move swiftly to ensure that no one dies due to lack of food.

There are reports that the Government had opened negotiations with Tanzania in June to import a million bags of maize. The process should be speeded so that the maize arrives before the problem reaches crisis levels.

But even as the Government moves to save Kenyans from hunger pangs, it is imperative that it reassess its strategies to make sure that the country achieves its elusive dream of food security.

It’s sad and shameful that 56 years after independence, families in a country that boasts of a budget that is bigger than all of her East African Community peers combined, cannot keep the wolf from the door.

What is clear as daylight is that Kenyans do not suffer hunger due to drought, climate change, lack of policies or money. It all boils down to corruption. This is the monster we must take by the horns to make Kenya food secure.

The Government has grandiose policies that, if followed through, can put enough food on each and every Kenyan's table, and still leave a surplus for export.

But corruption and mismanagement won’t just allow that. The Sh15 billion Galana Kulalu model farm collapsed partly due to what the Israeli's contracted to run the project termed interference from cartels. Kenyans are still reeling from news that Sh21 billion meant for construction of Arror and Kimwarer dams in Elgeyo Marakwet was misappropriated.

In addition, small-scale farmers perennially lose subsidised fertiliser to cartels that repackage the input and resell it to farmers at exorbitant prices.

Until corruption is rooted out, food security will remain a mirage for decades to come.