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Finding a lasting solution to drought and food insecurity

Localised conflict, displacement, and insecurity continue to be a big hindrance to food production, availability and access. Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

Food is a very central part of our very being, for without it we die. But food is more than a meal, people congregate around food, and there are no great occasions without food.

So important is the commodity that globally every 16th day of October is designated World Food Day.

Yet for some people, this precious commodity is very hard to come by.  A sobering fact is that an estimated 2.1 million Kenyans in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) are facing acute food insecurity and are in need of urgent assistance over the next six months at least.

Prolonged drought due to the failure of two consecutive rainy seasons as a result of climate change is the main contributor to the current food and nutrition insecurity.

Other factors include the effects of Covid-19 on production, markets, employment and resultant containment measures in some parts of the country as well as pest and disease outbreaks.

Localised conflict, displacement, and insecurity continue to be a big hindrance to food production, availability and access.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration in September of drought as a national disaster paved way for the release of funding from the national treasury and partners, for the provision of much needed food, water, livestock feeds and purchases from pastoralist communities, as well as cash disbursements to those in most need.

The declaration, which was made within weeks following assessment findings into the situation in the country, is a commendable step in closing the gap between early warning and early action.

With weather patterns data warning that the October-November rainfall season will be delayed and below normal across most parts of the country, there is need for the government and its development partners to factor intervention actions well into 2022.

There is a need for the Government of Kenya and other partners to galvanise efforts to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost to the drought by employing both short-term and long-term strategies to mitigate this perennial occurrence.

So far, the government has had a Hunger Safety Net Programme targeting the poorest and most vulnerable households in Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Tana River, Isiolo, Garissa and Samburu.  

However, the increasing vulnerability due to the multiple effects of drought and Covid-19 may call for an increase in the targeted people and the cash values being transferred to them.

While the transfers majorly target drought-affected communities, there is need to also pay attention to urban communities that are equally affected by unaffordable food prices– especially due to the rise in unemployment and increase in fuel prices. This will need to be properly coordinated to ensure that the most deserving households are targeted and there is no duplication of efforts.  

In the long term, sustainable agricultural practices and specifically the promotion of crop and livestock breeds and varieties that are tolerant to drought, investments in crop and livestock insurance, environmental protection and conservation, the promotion of alternative water sources and an increased  emphasis on rainwater harvesting for domestic or irrigation purposes in times of severe drought will go a long way in reducing the future impacts of drought on food and nutrition security.

Already local research institutions and the private sector are working collaboratively to climate-proof livelihoods, including offering flexible insurance and credit options to farmers and pastoralists, pay as you go extension services, insurance solutions for community water projects and other solutions tailored to the local context.

Most of these initiatives are riding on mobile platforms, making them accessible especially to the youth and women groups, whose combined forces will be critical in reducing the negative effects of climate change on food security.

While these initiatives all look promising, we are under no illusion that they are easy fixes or quick solutions to the perennial hunger crises that a number of the Kenyan communities usually face from time to time.

Nevertheless, every effort must be made to ensure no one is left behind and that all key players prioritise adequate food and nutrition security for all communities in the country and find lasting solutions so that hunger crises become a thing of the past.

The writer is a senior manager for disaster management, World Vision Kenya

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