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Government needs to do more to eliminate hunger

By Editorial | September 15th 2021

Right now in some part of Kenya, someone is dying of hunger. In a different part, someone is throwing away food because they can’t store it.

It is the height of irony that while a sizeable number of Kenyans in 10 counties are grappling with a crippling drought that has left them without food and water, others do not know where to take their maize. 

A new official report shows that last year alone, 965 million kilogrammes of food went to waste, tossed out or left to rot, due to difficulties in managing, storing or transporting.  

This is equivalent to 89,351 trucks with a capacity of 120 (90-kg) bags, an analysis of data from the Economic Survey 2021 reveals.

All kind of food — from maize to beans to potatoes — went to waste, even as millions of families who could have afforded to buy the produce at market price starved. 

This comes in the wake of a debilitating drought in northern Kenyan that led President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare drought in the 10 counties a national disaster. This need not be the case. Indeed, drought is not a new phenomenon in Kenya.

The fact that we have been going through the same drought cycle year in, year out is proof that the government has done little, if anything, to mitigate such situations.

The government has for long talked of its intention to reduce post-harvest losses as a means of making Kenya food secure, but that is yet to be realised despite all the hype. 

The government has estimated post-harvest losses at 20 per cent. As part of its Big Four agenda, the State plans to cut these losses to 15 per cent by 2022.

President Uhuru Kenyatta also said there were plans to waive duty on costly cereal drying equipment, hematic bags, grain cocoons/silos, and feed to minimise post-harvest losses.

It would serve Kenyans well if the government went a step further to activate its drought-tracking systems to buy cattle in arid areas in good time.

This will save herders losses as a consequence of their animals dying from lack of water and pasture. 

“The government will also transform the Strategic Food Reserve by promoting investments in post-harvest handling through public private partnerships, and by contracting farmers and other commercial off-takers,” said the National Treasury in the Budget Policy Statement for 2018. 

However, not much of these statements have been followed up with action. Most of these proposals were to be done by end of 2022, but clearly nothing has been achieved to this end. There is compelling need for both tiers of government to invest in irrigation schemes, water harvesting and advanced grain storage facilities. 

The county government, which is in charge of agriculture, has been a bystander, only keen to build roads and not hire extension officers who could assist farmers cut losses. A paradigm shift is necessary. We have to walk the talk if we really want to eliminate hunger within our borders.

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