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Looming food shortage: State should draw lessons fromprevious mistakes

By The Standard | March 9th 2019

The revelation that more than 1.1 million Kenyans are yet again on the brink of starvation is startling to say the least.

A short rains assessment report released yesterday warns that the crisis could last until the end of August when some farmers will have harvested after utilising the expected long rains. Worse still, the report — whose assessment was chaired by National Drought Management Authority and the World Food Programme — warns that more than 541,000 children require urgent treatment for acute malnutrition. According to the findings, Turkana, Wajir, Tana River, Mandera and West Pokot are in the red, and the foodshortage is evident even in regions that have been traditionally secure.  

The below-normal performance of rainfall affected crop production in agro-pastoral and marginal agriculture livelihood zones, with all the areas reporting 50 per cent below the expected harvest.

We find ourselves in the same situation we faced in February 2017 when the State was compelled by a biting food shortage to declare drought a national disaster. Then, authorities nearly ran out of options as those affected resigned themselves to fate. The script is all too familiar. Each year there is a foodshortage, an appeal is tossed and a fund is set up to coordinate relief efforts.

Kenyans will recall July 2011 when the ‘KenyansforKenyans’ initiative was set up. That year, 3.7 million Kenyans faced starvation and 380,000 children suffered acute malnutrition. We call upon the State to act with speed to minimize suffering. To get off this road to ruin, the relevant ministries – Interior, Agriculture and Health should avoid knee-jerk reactions. We cannot take the same route every now and again and expect a different outcome.  

It’s time we tripled investments in food production and took environmental conservation seriously. County governments and the National Irrigation Board should roll out a better outreach, taking care of the economies of scale. In the era of climate change, everyone has a role in protecting the ecosystem.

Those facing starvation need assistance. In the long term, the State should invest in asset creation and farmer education to build resilience and avert shortage.  

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