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Include others in feeding programme

By | July 29th 2009

Plans to continue emergency relief until August 2010 are complicated by limited resources. It seems the next year may prove a difficult one for food aid as higher prices (rather than scarcity) increase the number of people who are dependent on assistance.

The appeal by the Ministry of Education for funds to keep the School Feeding Programme going during the holidays this August highlights just how grave the food crisis is. More than a million school-going children depend on the programme for at least one full meal a day — for many, the only meal they get. Apart from a basic lunch, the programme also provides porridge during morning tea-break. Extending the programme through the school holidays will help cushion vulnerable families in arid, semi-arid or low income areas from the food crisis at a time prices continue to rise.

However, with a large number of children or unemployed youth under 15 out of school, this noble move may prove inadequate, especially in the North and North East. Measures to include these groups should be considered.

The Government had initially allocated Sh400 million to feed 550,000 pupils through the home grown feeding programme. Donors and humanitarian aid agencies have contributed or pledged further funding to the initiative, which benefited 1.6 million children in 2008/09.

Welcome Extension

Yesterday, Education Minister Sam Ongeri launched a massive Sh1.5 billion appeal to keep the programme going and stretch it to cover school holidays. With the large number of families that depend on the programme to supplement food costs, this will be a welcome extension. However, in many families there are children who are not in school — for example, girls in North Eastern — who are also threatened by the crisis. Roping these into the initiative, perhaps through the provision of larger rations would be ideal if resources are found to expand the programme.

The amount Ongeri is seeking for the programme this year is at par with that spent in the last financial year. However, while the price of maize meal, a key staple food, was up 133 per cent on average, it has since risen further to 170 per cent above pre-crisis levels. A World Food Programme assessment of staple food prices released last week says that while they were stable in the last three months, prices remain "very high compared to their long term averages, especially in countries that have roots, maize and rice as main staple food commodities".

This is a situation expected to change for the worse given rainfall failure and expectations that the next harvest, which begins in September, will see production as low as 50 per cent in marginal areas and 60 per cent in the ‘grain basket’ which feeds the nation.

Right now, the availability of food is not the main problem: It is the prices that consumers have to pay. Government funds for the feeding programme, the Orphans and Vulnerable Children initiative and other measures will have a smaller impact as food supplies are reduced and, consequently, food prices rise even further.

The families that are under so much pressure they are partially dependent on food aid will face even greater challenges and have more trouble supplementing the food they get, as they see higher prices than before and less food. A reduction in both the capacity of households to cope and Governments ability to help will lead to a huge humanitarain crisis unless the appeal made yesterday attracts an overwhelming response. Reassuring potential donors that relief food programmes are, to a large extent, efficient is key to this. Reports of corruption must be dealt with.

Sell Animals

Finally, we reiterate that relief efforts in the food/drought crisis must be concerned with saving the livelihoods of those affected as well as lives. It is sad to hear that plans to purchase livestock in arid areas are failing because the animals are in poor shape. In future interventions, it should be a priority to persuade communities to sell animals early enough. As it is, we may have created yet another army of former pastoralists now entirely dependent on humanitarian food aid.

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