Quick, solid government interventions will save Kenyans and their livestock from food shortage with the dearth of grain locally, both for food and feed, of particular concern. A reduction of the competition of grain between humans and their livestock could be a crucial intervention, says Martin Kinoti, the Secretary General of Association of Kenya Feeds Manufacturers (AKEFEMA).
This as the country's manufacturers now hop into countries such as Zambia and Malawi to buy raw materials for making feeds, with prices rising sharply due to a growing global demand for the same. Mr Kinoti says some of the world's biggest economies such as China and India docked in some of the regional producers of these materials as soon as economies reopened after Covid-19 started to ease and bought in bulk, in the process ramping up prices.
And punitive local tax regimes, technical restrictions, challenges in access to foreign currency and logistics disruptions- most of these exacerbated by the pandemic- have been dragging Kenya's bid for seamless importation back.
A problem with accessing yellow maize due to a tough stance by the government on importation of non-genetically modified maize worsened the feed problem in the past few months. However, in a June 10 gazette notice that exempted duty on imported raw materials used to manufacture animal and chicken feed, National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani backtracked on an earlier notice indicating that the Government would only allow 100 per cent non-GM yellow maize into the country. He allowed 26 companies to import yellow maize that is 99.1 per cent non-GM.
"The government should allow for continuous importation of yellow maize for animal feeds," says Kinoti decrying the end of the window allowing for importation of these raw materials free of import duty, which is at the end of October.
Mr Kinoti further says there has been an "all-time drop in demand for animal feeds, therefore an increase in idle capacity in feed mills". He says about 37 feed companies closed down in the past one year, with some of the country's finest commercial farms also shutting doors.
The AKEFEMA secretary general also says the country's livestock sector is, as a consequence of a raft of challenges facing production, losing regional competitiveness.
"This situation, where people can no longer profit off their livestock, is dangerous and is a threat to security as livestock farming is a socio-economic activity," says Mr Kinoti.
But the problem goes further than livestock feeds with local production of white maize- which is ground into flour that makes one of Kenya's main staples, ugali- declining over the years.
Stephen Mugo, the director of the Centre for Resilient Agriculture for Africa (CRA-Africa), says Kenya experiences a shortage of nearly 11 million 90-kilo bags of maize a year. This year, which has experienced delayed rainfall amid increasing demand for maize, could be worse, with Dr Mugo saying that "2022 is particularly a food-insecure year".
"At any given time, there are between two and four million Kenyans in need of emergency food aid," says Dr Mugo. "Many people rely on maize for most of their nutritional needs, with maize occupying up to 40 per cent of Kenya's arable land (He says that arable land makes up only 25 per cent of Kenya's land mass)."
Apart from the abiotic (such as drought) and biotic (pests and diseases) factors affecting production, Dr Mugo says socio-economic factors such as costly inputs, lack of credit and market challenges have also contributed to the dip in production.
Rapid population increase, climate change, inefficient food systems, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have also contributed to the woes in food production in the country. Some of these foreign issues have affected many other countries as well.
Dr Mugo also says the change of use of some of the high potential areas into real estate use has also played a big role in stressing production. A recent study by the National Land Commission (NLC), christened the Land Fragmentation Report, showed that excessive fragmentation of land was pushing people out of their homes as they seek greener pastures especially in urban areas. This fragmentation is often driven by the need to shift to real estate, which is seen as more commercially viable and with quicker benefits.
In the short term, Dr Mugo says the government could focus on targeted food imports, and should lift the ban on GM foods. It could also offer famine relief food for people living in Northern Kenya, where the drought hits hardest.
In the medium term, lower taxation of food and related equipment could be crucial, with reexamination of regional trade policies on food imports and farmer protection (from cheap imports that drive local farmers out of the market) at the fore.
"In the long term, the government should prioritise growing cash crops and food crops in high potential areas, and also offer farmer support such as in fertiliser subsidy and guaranteeing markets for foods," he said. "We should also build capacity and work towards institutional infrastructural development."
Mr Kinoti also says keeping abreast with the first world, such as allowing importation and use of GM products, such as yellow maize "which is used extensively in many developed countries", and adopting cost-based pricing for producers could be some of the ways to alleviate food, and feed shortage.