Kenya will remain food insecure if we do not embrace irrigation

Lolupe villagers in Turkana County at an irrigation farm harvesting their vegetables. [File, Standard]
While the National Drought Management Authority has warned of worsening drought and food shortages, it is not lost on us that this is a perennial problem that the national government has failed to address.

In April this year, the meteorological department warned that the expected long rains period would fail due to events in the Indian Ocean that resulted in cyclone Idai and, indeed, that came to pass. The cyclone resulted in low atmospheric pressure that could not push rain clouds north of Mozambique where Idai caused devastation in March.

On the basis of this warning and the ravages of drought, particularly in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya where livestock and people have succumbed to hunger, better planning by the Government was expected. But, alas, the Government appears to have fallen short of expectation and the drought continues to cause devastation in some areas.  

Food security is a key plank in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda. Sadly, that faces the risk of just being a policy proposal unless the Government goes flat out to carry out the necessary reforms to put the country on the path towards achieving food security. Whenever the country has been faced with food shortages before, the recourse has been to import maize and other grains. But while that provides a temporal relief, it does not address the problem.

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The sooner the Government acknowledges that rain-fed agriculture is no longer viable, the better for us. Even without drought, water levels have been receding, courtesy of increased human and animal populations and mankind’s cavalier attitude towards environmental conservation. Encroachment on forests has ended up destroying water catchment areas.

The solution for food security lies in irrigation farming. By setting up irrigation schemes like Galana-Kulalu, Bura, Bunyala, Mwea, West Kano and Perkerra, among others, the Government was on the right track, but implementation of the projects to make them sustainable remains a problem. Corruption has always reared its head to drive such noble projects into the ground.

In the meantime, the Government should address the food shortage in the drought hit areas by purchasing maize from local farmers and distributing the same to affected regions. Poor logistics cannot be an excuse for letting Kenyans to die of starvation.

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National Drought Management AuthorityIrrigationFood security