For the past year, Kenya has been grappling with food scarcity arising from a combination of factors, including failed rains across the region and poor policies and planning. The country is currently facing a shortage of maize meal that has compelled the government to intervene through importation and subsidy of retail costs. But this is half-measure and unsustainable. At any rate, the low-cost maize meal is literally not available at the retail outlets.
When we thought this was bad, the worse is yet to come. Now, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued fresh warning that the food crisis is deepening and the situation is bound to get worse. Some 3.6 million Kenyans will be forced to seek relief food in the coming months because, contrary to earlier expectations, the harvests that always come in August are going to be extremely low. At present, at last 2.6 million are surviving on food rations from government, in itself not adequate and poorly distributed.
The overt cause of crop failure is poor rainfall this year. But that is part of the problem. Largely, the serial and cyclic food crisis results from poor planning, obsolete farming practices, inefficient marketing, high post-harvest wastage and inadequate financing. Farming is done mainly by small-holder peasants whose capacity to raise productivity is woefully marginal.
Three years ago, the government launched an ambitious irrigation project at the Coast, Galana/Kulalu, billed to put at least one million acres under cultivation to grow food crops to end the perennial food scarcity. However, the project was drastically scaled down to 10,000 acres and funding cut from Sh14 billion to Sh7 billion. Worse, the cost of production far outweighs the output, meaning Kenyans have not got value from the project. Other planned major irrigation projects in the Rift Valley and lower Eastern regions have not picked up.
Put simply, we have done badly in addressing food scarcity. Whereas it is clear rain-fed agriculture cannot feed the population, there is no serious effort to diversify into modern farming to boost productivity and end the recurrent hunger and famine.