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Government should wake up and deal with the looming food shortage

By Macharia Munene | June 28th 2021

Currently, 1.5 million Kenyans are in danger of weather-induced starvation. [Courtesy]

In the midst of a mutating coronavirus challenge, competing political interests and declining purchasing power, there looms a national disaster in the name of food shortage. This threat to national security has two sources.

These are natural disasters partly induced by weather unpredictability on one side and human negligence and policy failures on the other. It is human negligence and policy failures that lead to possible famine and threaten President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda.

While governments in the Horn of Africa region were on a power centralising spree, struggling to contain challenges and maintain questionable legitimacy, locusts invaded, ate crops and overwhelmed national capacities to respond. Rains, when they came, were unusual, causing floods that raised water levels in lakes, marooned some villages and destroyed homes near the lakes.

When the rains failed, large agricultural lands cracked, with livestock and the owners desperately looking for both water and pastures. Finding none, they engaged in resource clashes. In addition, the current unusual cold with no rain has stunted the growth of staple food crops like maize.

There is likely to be widespread crop failure and since Kenya is unprepared, it is vulnerable. While natural calamities might explain the likely food shortage in Kenya, the big disaster is in human failure that accounts for the difference between starvation and famine. 

Currently, 1.5 million Kenyans are in danger of weather-induced starvation and the state, in theory, should be able to handle it. To do that, however, food reserve granaries should be full all the time to deal with such likely emergencies. Unfortunately, they are empty. The warnings were there in 2020 that the maize granaries were empty, and this was before coronavirus. 

In May and June 2021, the rains have not cooperated and instead a dry spell is ravaging most of the country. Already resource related clashes have occurred in neighbouring dry counties and they are likely to increase as people and livestock die.

Where maize is expected, crops are stunted, which means that the harvests will not be there. About 10 million people will be affected by the looming food shortage due to crop failure and policy incapacity. Although the government has sent out appeals for food assistance, there is doubt whether the response will be adequate to allay public concern.

The ‘donors’, with their own corona-related challenges, are suffering ‘donor fatigue’. Food security, being one of the president’s Big Four agenda, looming famine disorganises his legacy.

It generates a pattern of undermining the Big Four by negatively linking one crumbling pillar to the others in a vicious self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.

A people dying due to lack of food cannot be healthy, cannot build houses, cannot engage in food production and related wealth creating activities, and therefore cannot feed themselves. To compound the dire situation, obsession with political power grab is no longer amusing to an anxious public.



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