Kenya saw drought coming, but did little to avert food crisis

Monday February 20 2017

A couple carries away relief food distributed by the Kenyan government in Baringo County on February 10, 2017. PHOTO | FILE

The Kenyan government is on the spot for failing to plan for the current drought, despite signs that the country was at a risk of a food shortage early last year. At the time, southern African nations that supply Kenya with food imports were hit by a severe drought.

The Kenya Meteorological Department had predicted the probability of the La Nina phenomenon, which is characterised by a long dry spell.

This meant that the country would not receive enough rainfall during the short rains season from October to December.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared the drought a national disaster to save more than two million Kenyans who are facing starvation.

The president said the government has set aside $104 million to tackle the drought through interventions like doubling of food rations and cash transfers.

READ: Kenya declares biting drought national disaster


And to stabilise the high prices of cereals, the government would allow maize importation by licensed millers.

Kenya made the declaration just months after Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said that the country had enough stocks to last until June.

Last month, Mr Bett said the country required 29 million bags of maize to feed the nation for the first half of the year, and that farmers had produced 21 million bags last year, leaving a deficit of eight million bags. The country usually produces about 32 million bags annually.

Failure to plan

According to Mary Mathenge, a director at agricultural research organisation Tegemeo Institute, Kenya could have avoided the current predicament.

“This is purely a case of failure in planning, because it was predicted early that the short rains would not be sufficient and there was a drought in the southern Africa region. There was need for mitigation mechanisms,” she told The EastAfrican.

She added that this failure had put Kenya in a dire situation as it looked to import maize, particularly from neighbouring Uganda.

Over the past four months, Kenya has imported about 3,000 tonnes of maize from Uganda.

The country is now planning to import more maize from Mexico as it avoids sourcing from countries that have adopted the genetic modification.

As the effects of climate change become more severe, Kenya must plan to invest in long term strategies to deal with perennial cycles of drought.

In particular, the country must stop dependence on rain-fed agriculture and invest significantly in irrigation schemes.

Kenya must also find ways of water harvesting and storage, providing farmers with subsidies, expanding more land for cultivation, and investing in post harvest technologies.