By John Oyuke
Last year, millions of people were in danger of being wiped out by starvation. The ugly scenes saw private firms and other well-wishers raise nearly Sh1 billion to feed the hungry under the Kenyans for Kenya initiative.
A year later, the country is staring at another food crisis. Perennial food shortage has typified the mark of poor planning.
Metereologists warn of possible continued food insecurity. People facing starvation are expected to hit 2.4 million. The number of those exposed is likely to increase by 200,000, at least until December, according to the just released Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) July to December assessment.
Failure by the Government planners to curb food shortage might plunge more people, especially those in arid and semi-arid areas, into another devastating hunger. This is due to changing weather patterns, crop diseases, surging food prices and failed systems.
Food agency report
The number of food insecure population will be released this month after conclusion of the multi-agency assessments.
The group made up of representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), UN agencies, donors and the Government said needs are expected to be high until mid to late October to December short rains.
This will be more pronounced in south Eastern and Coastal marginal agricultural lowlands and in the south-eastern pastoral areas.
And as if this is not enough, there is a possibility that the feared El Nino weather phenomenon could strike in two months time, not only bringing the benefit of improved pasture, but also potential weather chaos likely to destroy transport infrastructure.
Fews Net, a provider of food-security warnings funded by the US Agency for International Development, has issued an El Nino warning for October to December.
It said enhanced rains may result in the destruction of transport infrastructure hindering access to markets and delivery of humanitarian interventions in the pastoral areas between November and December.
Flooding may also occur in flood-prone areas leading to displacements, loss of livelihood assets, and outbreaks of water- and vector-borne diseases.
The excess rain water during the harvesting season may also lead to significant pre-and post-harvest maize crop losses in the key growing areas, cut supply chain and make safe storage of any produce more difficult.
It is estimated that post-harvest losses are up to between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of produce in some parts of the country, which is further frustrated by weak market linkages and lack of value addition technology.
The intense campaigns leading up to the March 2013 elections may also disrupt seasonal farming activities such as land preparation.
“They could also disrupt the distribution of main staples from surplus-producing to the deficit or consumption markets,” according to the KFSSG’s Kenya Food Security Outlook July – December report.
The assessment comes amidst growing concerns among Kenyans over the country’s inability to ensure food security for all despite often stated agricultural policies and strategies. Kenya is currently implementing Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (ASDS), which envisages a food secure and prosperous nation by 2020.
Two pillars of that strategy are to reduce the number of food insecure people by 30 per cent, and to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line to less than 25 per cent during the period.
Participants at a one-day forum in Nairobi last week heard that food production in Kenya demands a paradigm shift in the light of rapid population growth, climate change and shrinking acreage of arable land.
Despite the major causes of extreme food shortage in the country obviously known to be poor rains, floods, massive crop failure and loss livestock facilitated by poor farming methods, relevant authorities have sat on their jobs and done little to mitigate the situation.
Director-General of Kenya Vision’s 2030 Delivery Board Mugo Kibati said agriculture is the engine of the nation’s economy yet more people struggle to feed their families.
“There is far too much promise in our country’s agricultural sector for us to fall short of our economic potential,” he said.
Multi sector effort
The meeting organised by the Government, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and private sector entities discussed the need for agricultural innovation, food pricing, agricultural financing and links to nutrition.
AGRA president Jane Karuku called for deepening of alliances and investments in innovation that will help women and men on front lines of Kenya’s agricultural workforce.
“Given the proper support, the smallholder farmers can feed the future of the country and the continent,” she said. Karuku observed that sustained agricultural growth is critical to uplifting the living standards of Kenyans as well as generating rapid economic growth that is inclusive.