Poor food production is our real foe, not maize imports or GMOs

Maize farmers in Uasin Gishu County dry maize near Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Have you ever been hungry? I don’t mean the kind of hunger we all feel occasionally after skipping a meal or a delay. Rather, I mean the excruciating hunger that leaves you drowsy and weak in the knees.

That is the kind of hunger more than 4 million Kenyans in 23 counties are already experiencing when relief food delays to reach them as reported by the Kenya Red Cross Society.

I am convinced that all arms of government together with the populace, agree that these fellow Kenyans must be provided with relief food as soon as possible.

We all agree that decisive steps must be taken to ensure we produce sufficient food to feed all Kenyans, especially during such drought situations.

We need to work from these points of premise so that we don’t lose focus of our national goal of achieving consistent food security.

This food security will remain a pipe dream if we can’t even produce enough maize for our needs, yet this is our staple diet.

According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (KALRO), for the last five years, we have produced an average 2.8 million tonnes of maize annually, which is way far from the potential yield of the seeds planted.

That is why we have had to import an average 295,092 tonnes of maize annually. Now, I consider that it is against this backdrop that the government recently imported ten million bags of maize to bridge the deficit and ensure vulnerable Kenyans can access it as soon as possible.

On the other hand, various legislators say this import will deprive Kenyan maize farmers of their market share which may not be the case if you look at the trend of the last five years.

Unfortunately, double talk from the government side as experienced last week is not helping the situation. When Kenyans are thrown into misunderstanding as to whether the imported maize is genetically modified or not, leaves them feeling unfairly exposed.

Such doublespeak can muddy the waters and cause us to lose focus on the real enemy – hunger, occasioned by inadequate food production.

Let us, therefore, shepherd the conversation back to food security. What can we do to produce not just sufficient maize for our needs but also a surplus for export? The same applies to other major foodstuffs that we consume.

According to International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) the current average rice consumption is estimated at 949,000 metric tonnes against an annual production of 180,000 metric tonnes. Considering that rice and maize are two of our most consumed starches, we are treading on thin ice. 

I suggest therefore that our parliamentarians should be burning the midnight oil deliberating policy options for triplicating our maize and rice production.

They should be asking how we can restore degraded land for farm use and increase the yield of our arable land.

They should also be exploring inventive ways of reducing farmers’ production costs and expanding their market to maximize their yields and profits.

In this regard, the fertiliser subsidy is only one of the many accurate steps we need to take.

According to the US International Development Finance Corporation, a staggering 30 to 40 per cent of Kenya’s food is wasted through bad infrastructure and porous distribution. This is unacceptable and must be rectified with the urgency it deserves.

I look forward to legislators calling a bipartisan press conference to inform Kenyans about legislative roadmaps they intend to take on all such food security related matters.

In the same vein, Kenyans expect cabinet secretaries and government officials to speak in one voice when it comes to concrete food security proposals.

Food is literally a matter of life and death and must never be politicised. Think green, act green.