Severe Warning Sounded on Food Security in Kenya

Posted on 20 March 2009. Filed under: Food Security |

Photo: Kenya Food Security Group
The area covered by the 2009 short rains food security assessment for Kenya

NAIROBI, (IRIN) – Immediate, medium and long-term priority interventions, including controlling food prices, providing food aid and creating employment, are required to stop more Kenyans going hungry, an inter-agency assessment of the 2008/2009 short rains recommends.

The interventions in livestock, agriculture, fisheries, water, education, health and nutrition sectors would address Kenya’s food insecurity, which is becoming “increasingly entrenched”, states the report compiled by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group, with several Kenyan ministries, UN agencies and NGOs.

Poor October-December 2008 short rains precipitated the food security crisis, with the south-eastern, coastal and central lowlands receiving exceptionally poor rains, according to the assessment.

Besides crop failure, the poor rains caused severe water shortages, mostly in the north-eastern pastoral districts; aggravating resource conflicts in the region.

The short rains assessment, undertaken by nine field teams, covered 37 traditionally drought-prone pastoral, agro-pastoral, marginal agricultural districts, including five agriculturally high potential districts affected by post-election violence in early 2008.

For agriculture, the report recommends providing drought-tolerant seeds and farm inputs to farmers in areas affected by months of post-election violence in early 2008.

For the water sector, the assessment recommends water-trucking; fuel subsidies, borehole rehabilitation; desilting water sources; rain harvesting; rehabilitation of shallow wells and the rehabilitation of irrigation canals.

In the food sector, the report says at least 123,000 metric tonnes of food commodities will be required from April to September and recommends the prioritising of food and association costs for 2.5 million drought-affected people; 850,000 school children and 150,000 internally displaced persons; and a supplementary feeding programme.

On 18 March, the UN World Food Programme said it was scaling up food aid in the country to feed 3.5 million people hit by drought and high food prices.


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3 Responses to “Severe Warning Sounded on Food Security in Kenya”

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Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

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I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that your posts are really interesting
And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
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Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

By Indangasi M Kephas

Capriciousness of government, no tragedy of Climate Change

The philanthropic Kenyans for Kenya project of the Red Cross may help the challenges of the hungry for a few weeks, but there is every need for long term strategy by the government. As true as it maybe, that Climate change threatens sustainable development and all the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) across the horn of Africa, we ought to know that while drought is caused by lack of rainfall, famine is man-made. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen famously observed, famines do not occur in functioning democracies. This famine could as well be attributed to the poor leadership in the ministry of Agriculture in the period proceeding to the real time and the ethnic failure of politics and leadership at the treasury. These are the main institutions that should have put strategies in place to avert the current situation. Did the responsible leaders at the two ministries think about it, despite the fact that the spectre of climate change has been with us for a long time?

Though this article seeks to deal with the responsibility Kenya as a country has, to ensure food security for its people, it is important to note that Kenya as well as other developing countries are the main victims of climate change, although they do not significantly cause it. Rural areas and especially the agricultural sector in Africa are heavily affected by the consequences of these climate changes caused by the emission of green house gasses (GHG) into the atmosphere by other countries. The main producers of greenhouse gas emissions are the rich and developed countries, while, other transitional countries are increasingly contributing to global warming and environmental pollution. It is becoming more and more difficult to combine sustainable economic growth and development with issues arising from economic activities such as the increase of greenhouse gases through large scale industrialized production systems. Particularly developing countries, where industrialization has not only yet been established, but corruption, tribalism and population growth stretches countries to the limit, it is of vital importance to work out preventive and sustainable strategies to eradicate poverty, hunger and avoid climate change at the same time. We are struggling with the effects of rich countries carelessness, while they paint western papers with blame for Horn Africa’s lack of foresight and corruption as the cause of the current famine.

Nevertheless, for Kenyans to consider any measures or strategies toward solving the increasingly embarrassing problem of food security, we have to seek to interrogate basic known facts on drought and food security in the region. Basically the three most affected groups among others are: a) Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in arid and semi-arid areas. b) Small-scale, resource-poor farmers and c) the urban poor. Important to note too are some of the underlying causes of long-term food insecurity such as; i) there is the high risk of natural hazards, especially drought, because of the aridity of much of the region and the fact that rainfall is low, unreliable and unevenly distributed; ii) there is also evidence that the climate is becoming more unstable. iii) Widespread regional and local conflict also triggers food insecurity; it drives people from their homes and disrupts marketing and distribution systems. These are but basic factors of food insecurity in the horn of Africa and Kenya in particular. If these factors have been known to be here with us, the questions we should seek to discuss are; 1.what is the problem then? 2. Why no preparedness to food security? 3. What should be done and by who?

Although it is evident that the Civil service is blind to effects of Climate change and food security in Kenya, the onus lies on a section of the civil service, that is, all the ministries related to Agricultural development and the treasury. To delve into that let us look at this simple question. Why would the public service want to sack Chief Philip Elimlim of Kalabata in Turkana for showing journalists the book in which he recorded people who had died in his location and some resulting from hunger and malnutrition?

The implementer of government policy including that on climate change and food security is the civil service and not the NGOs. More specific in regards to the topical issue of drought and the starving masses in northern Kenya, one can only query the strategies, climate change adaptation and mitigation programs. In addition to the contingence plan put in place by the relevant government arms since three to four years ago. Amid such information as, in order to meet national demands and the vision 2030, Kenya will need to produce 70-90% more food by the year 2030. Why should we not manage that?

Impacts of climate change are already measurable and consequently here with us in forms of varied temperatures, failing rains, health challenges resulting from new veterinary and human diseases, crop failures, fishery collapses and livestock deaths. These are already causing economic losses and undermine food security, and are likely to become more severe as global warming continues. The relationships among climate change, agriculture and food security are complex and dynamic. Agriculture and food systems are heavily influenced by socio-economic conditions such as changing patterns of consumption, macro-economic policies, conflict and the spread of disease. What are we learning from all the available data on this? What actions are we as a country taking? Shouldn’t we?

The fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger is established in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the branch of international law inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand this is related to the millennium development goal (MDG-1) number 1 that was set to be achieved by 2015 in Kenya like the rest of the world. It should be highly noted that whilst poverty is undoubtedly a fundamental cause of hunger, poor households are unable to purchase food despite its availability; it is equally a consequence of hunger. For example undernourished children from families in Turkana, Pokot, Moyale and Wajir are less able to work or learn to their full potential. In pastoral and northern Kenya areas, drought decimates livestock herds and, because of a collapse in livestock prices, due to diseases and lack of fodder and water, people are confronted with reduced capacity to trade with those selling other food stuff at inflated prices. Are we aware, if so, then what?

Despite long standing research estimate/findings that growth of rural economies accelerates poverty reduction four times faster than other sectors, the proportion of treasury budgetary allocation to agriculture is dismally less than 4.5% in since independence. Kenya is yet to practically think of how it will achieve the 2003 Maputo Declaration, which called for at least 10% of national budgets to be dedicated to agriculture, to spur national economies. With all this enough evidence to act, what can we say when Kenya’s treasury is inhabited by tribal minded professionals that only think of ethnic supremacies rather than the plight of the fabric of the national Kenyan economy and rural poverty.

The consequence of this prolonged lack of investment is an inadequate infrastructure for rural economies. Only 2% of productive land in Kenya is irrigated whilst poor roads and storage facilities impede market functions. Though today we are rushing to the northern Kenya with bales of CSB/ unimix that will feed 40,000 families for a day, do we ask what about the 364 days in the year and the people sustainable future. Are we aware that even if there were foods on the market in Turkana, Wajir and East Pokot sometimes as is the case, so highly priced, does this pastoralist have the livelihoods and income to purchase the highly priced food stuff the rest of the seasons? Are we not aware that, mean annual temperatures increased from 1960-2006 by 1ºC in Kenya, and that the frequency of hot days is increasing in this region? We are equally aware that rainfall trends are less clear and with this something need be done. What is the Kenyan policy on these arid lands and how is it effectively applied? What are the impacts of the implementation of such policy?

Nevertheless, it is public knowledge that research by climate change experts expect a significant increase in weather variability, contributing to a fourfold increase of material damage and a rising death toll from natural disasters, in particular floods, droughts and landslides, thus further aggravating a rising past trend. Particularly worrying is the fact that these natural disasters hit the poor disproportionately as is doing right now and shall continue to do so, to our fellow Kenyans and especially in the arid and semi arid lands (ASAL). In fact agriculture everywhere in the horn of Africa and in particular, Kenya, runs the risk of being negatively affected by climate change; hence in essence, it goes without arguing that existing cropping systems and infrastructure will have to change to meet future demand. With respect to growing population and the threat of negative climate change impacts, science will now have to show if and how agricultural production in the horn of Africa can be significantly improved. The question is can the government systems centrally engage the researchers and technical climate change teams in the country, for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable rural people now suffering effects of the lack of a drought preparedness strategy?

The effects of climate change will continue to be with us world over, in Kenya and the horn of Africa, even more increasingly. The recent droughts in the region tested the archaic measures applied by the government and their potential irrelevance as is the situation as now. Serious and simple measures of adapting to long-term climatic changes and further mitigation processes are what are required to be undertaken. We do need to over highlight the need for the Government of Kenya through the ministry of Agriculture (livestock/fisheries/water) to promote an integrated drought management system that links together: the distribution of a diversified mix of locally appropriate, traditional seeds at the community level; improved access to water resources (such as sand dams) and water conservation practices (such as drip irrigation systems); and the diversification of livelihoods through promoting and using drought tolerant crops, training villagers in basic entrepreneurial skills and small-scale business management, and promoting the provision of micro-credit by local financial systems. These are very simple measures that should be undertaken at the community level across the country to prepare farmers and pastoralist holistically for the ever increasing effects of climate change as they shall, like it or not, increase in intensity and consequence. This will a sustainable way help small farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists and the country at large produce sufficient food, fodder and fibre for the growing Kenya population under a changing climate.

Firstly, it is the role of the ministries of Agriculture, livestock and fisheries to demonstrate the critical role of agricultural (including veterinary) extension services in preparing farmers and pastoralist for the impacts of climate change, not at hotel meeting rooms but at the village, farm and rangeland level. There is need to improve and re-launch agricultural extension capacity in Kenya and to raise the capacity of County and ward officials to access sufficient information about climate change, its potential implications and actions they can and need to take to reduce vulnerability in the agriculture sector. More important is the process of sharing research findings in the areas of Climate change adaptation and mitigation processes, for the capacity building of extension officers and the subsequent enabling of the farmers/pastoralists. In the performance contracting of theses ministries staff, there must be set clear SMART objectives and the expected results undoubtedly analyzed with clearly defined activities to be performed in a gnantchart with understandable outputs and timeframe. While awakening the treasury and public service commission to avail the necessary inputs (money and staff) will be the beginning of wisdom for the government.

Secondly, it is imperative that the ministry takes a continuous action by mobilizing and facilitating the coming together of meteorologists, agronomists, agricultural extensions officers, seed, livestock specialists, pastoralist, fisher folks and farmers; to demonstrate and embed a process for generating and delivering the information farmers/pastoralists need to make informed Livestock production and farm planting decisions that takes into consideration the uncertainty associated with rainfall projections. Improving access to meteorological information at the local level and communicating this knowledge to pastoralists/farmers in a manner that is understandable to them will help pastoralists/farmers and fisher folk cope with increasingly unpredictable weather conditions.

Thirdly, with the limitations of the natural environment in the horn of Africa, that place certain constraints on improving food security, the chances of drought occurring in parts of Kenya have increased from a probability of one in every six years to one in two to three years for those areas affected. Over the last decade there have been two apparent changes in long-term weather patterns. First, there is a mean decrease in annual rainfall in the region; and second, inter-annual variability of rainfall has been increasing in the crescent from Kenya to Sudan, including parts of Ethiopia and Tanzania. Hence with this picture I suppose there should be every need for the government to guarantee that the relevant civil service teams have to ensure that all interventions contribute to improved and diversified livelihoods. As well as facilitate the integration of adaptation to climate change into policies related to disaster management and sustainable development of arid and semi-arid lands and to small farmers in rural agricultural areas.

Finally, as a result of the consequences of climate change, significant parts of Kenya will become areas where cropping will no longer be possible and the role of livestock as a livelihood option shall undeniably increase. Major changes within Kenya’s agricultural system will be required in order to avoid a situation of famine as is now and to protect livelihoods and ensure food security. Responses to climate change need to encompass several levels, including crop and farm-level adaptations; collective action at the community level; and supporting policies and investments at national, county, and village levels. This will require the involvement of all stakeholders. Potential strategies will have to include infrastructural investment, water-management reform, land-use policy, and improved food markets. Diversification of income sources is also a key adaptation strategy that should be encouraged across counties and constituencies in Kenya. This may include highly targeted efforts to promote livestock ownership, facilitate risk management, and broaden income-generating opportunities at village and county levels. Better still, green house farming and irrigation efforts augmented in dry areas.
In all these, it is import to note that it is neither the president nor the prime minister who is supposed to implement government policy in these sectors, but the relevant civil servants starting from cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries, and policy technocrats to ward officers. But, with career civil servants in Kenya, who thrive in making deals and running their own businesses, while holding brief for their appointing authorities in such deals still running ministries, can we have such simple activities as required to make hunger and poverty history, implemented at the ward and county level spearheaded by the career civil servants? How do you have staff working at the local level without job descriptions and defined activities and result areas? How can one former cabinet member move around saying I have been a minister of Agriculture or livestock while it is during such tenure of his, that no sufficient seeds were made available to farmers hence insufficient harvest. According to the UNFAO food insecurity in the region is principally, but not exclusively, a rural problem. Hence when famine strikes, it is the rural population who is most vulnerable. Interventions need to be planned on the basis of a good understanding of the factors that contribute to the particular vulnerability of rural people. Should the leaders in the relevant ministries understand these basics? Need they?
The relevant ministries teaming up with their line research institutes will need to carry out ex-ante assessment of a wide range of technology and policy options related to risk management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and to evaluate green house gases trade-offs and synergies among the environmental, livelihood and food security aspects. Findings of which will need to be disseminated widely among stakeholders, the local and rural community for implementation and experimentation. Key will be to test pro-poor adaptation and mitigation practices, technologies and policies for food systems, adaptive capacity and rural livelihoods, in all the 47 counties in Kenya.

NGO effort for Turkana youth in making hay from fodder during the rainy season in preparation for the dry

If other countries are already doing these, can our own civil service, ministries and their relevant line research institution do it? Can we prepare our people for the looming disaster or we increasingly get exposed to such shameful situations as we face today? It is not about the NGOs but the main stream civil service. It is the responsibility of the government and its people to take charge of the situation. Yes they have the onus to do so, by developing and implementing strategies that integrate disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation into the fight against poverty. Will they? Is someone relevant at the departments of agriculture and treasury reading this? Kenyans for Kenya from all walks of life are quick to put a penny and whiff of money onto the contribution basket to salvage the Kenyans in the arid lands, but such benevolent effort will not suffice to redeem the runaway situation, the people in the arid lands cannot thrive on the altruistic ways of Kenyans alone. There must be sustainable long term initiatives involving the livelihoods of the northern Kenyans themselves to give them a life of their own. Agriculture and treasury actors of all kinds have to pool resources, expertise and efforts in order to deal with the rapidly expanding challenges brought about by climate change and drought; in general, government must mobilize people, businesses, and communities everywhere to become engaged and promote steps to tackle food security and end the suffering it causes.

The writer Indangasi M Kephas a Rural Development Expert; is a Kenyan working with C&D (Changes and Dimensions) International in (Cambodia) South Asia. Email:

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