The number of Kenyans staring at starvation is projected to increase in the coming months to 3.4 million, from 2.6 million identified at the beginning of the year.
Maize production is expected to decline by between 20 and 30 per cent this crop year due to insufficient long rains and infestation by the fall armyworm across 27 counties.
It is estimated that about 200,000 hectares have been ravaged by the armyworm, which could result in losses of up to 4.2 million bags valued at $120 million, according to the US State Department of Agriculture.
In Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, however, the situation has improved slightly, although maize production remains “below normal.”
In Tanzania, the total maize production for July 2016/June 2017 was expected to be 5.6 million tonnes, representing a 10 per cent drop from the 2015/2016 period.
In the same period, maize harvest in Uganda was anticipated to be 1.7 million tonnes, 25 per cent below the 2015/2016 production while Rwanda expected to harvest 671,000 tonnes, 10 per cent below the previous season.
The decline in Tanzania and Uganda in the first quarter of this year has seen a drop of 77 per cent and 64 per cent respectively in their export volumes to Kenya.
In the second quarter, imports from Uganda were 46 per cent above the four-year average while those from Ethiopia were exceptionally high, at 50 times the average.
A ban on maize exports by Tanzania saw exports to Kenya plunge by 54 per cent below average, and mostly through informal channels, according to Ministry of Agriculture data.
With the food insecurity in Kenya getting worse, the Ministry of Agriculture has sent field officers to the country’s breadbasket of Rift Valley to assess the situation.
A Ministry official told The EastAfrican that this year’s projections point to a shortfall of between eight and 12 million bags, from the annual harvest of about 40 million bags.
The government is, therefore, planning ahead because the expected harvest will only last up to February next year.
Kenya consumes three million bags of maize monthly.
The deficit is causing the government a headache, as it tries to balance the availability of affordable maize flour under the subsidised imports programme while pondering whether to halt the imports to allow farmers sell their produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board at competitive market rates.
There are concerns that farmers plan to hoard their harvest until after the expiry of the subsidy programme on September 30.
“Majority of farmers are apprehensive they will not get a decent return because of the subsidised maize,” Duncan Onduu, Seed Trade Association of Kenya CEO told The EastAfrican.
To avoid upsetting farmers, the government has started scaling down maize supplies to millers under the subsidy programme ahead of the deadline. Under the initiative, the government has been importing maize at $34.3 per 90 kg bag and selling to millers at $21.9.
Since the programme started in May, the government has spent about $38 million importing 4.3 million bags from Ethiopia, Mexico, South Africa and Zambia.
According to the 2017 Long Rains Season Assessment Report, Kenya did not experience sufficient rains between March and May with some areas receiving as low as 50 per cent of normal rainfall.
“The 2017 March-May long rains arrived late across most of the country and delayed by between one and four weeks in the marginal agricultural and pastoralist areas. Most parts of the country received 50-90 per cent of normal rainfall,” states the report.
It adds that food security will be affected as rangeland resources deteriorate, food prices remain high and agricultural incomes remain low. “Food consumption will decline as more households increasingly rely on coping strategies to fill gaps,” it notes.
The pain is expected to marginally ease towards the end of the year after the Kenya Meterological Department said the country is likely to experience improved short rains from October to December.
“Most parts of the country will experience enhanced rainfall that will also be well distributed in time and space.”
To avert disaster, the Kenya government intends to import another 3.7 million bags of maize this month under the subsidy programme before bringing it to a close to allow the cereals board to start buying from farmers to ensure there is continuous supply in the market.
The government also plans to stock up the national maize reserve starting with one million bags soon and build up stocks to at least four million bags in the medium term.