Why food crisis remains a thorn in Kenya’s economy

Findings from the Kenya Food Security Steering Group show that 9.8 million Kenyans are food insecure, meaning they cannot afford enough food to meet their daily needs.

World Bank Kenya country director Felipe Jaramillo said that delays in the long rains and a growing need for emergency interventions to deal with food shortages “is a reminder of the outstanding challenges in managing agricultural risks in Kenya.”

There are a host of reasons for this including the current high prices of commodities and weaker purchasing power. Out of the 9.8 million people, around 3.5 million need food aid to survive.

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There are two possibilities – the rains could be sufficient or poor. If the country receives ample rains, the food scarcity will subside, although it will still take a considerable time for the country to fully recover.

However, if the rains are poor, we could have a severe humanitarian crisis that sometimes may require international intervention.

Jeremy Musila French beans

A myriad of problems ranging from corruption, weak policies, armyworm invasion, cartels, post-harvest wastage, outdated farming practices, and declining soil fertility are to blame for the country’s perpetual woes.

Experts say the country lost up to 10 million bags of maize last year due to post-harvest losses as a result of the armyworm infestation that the government took too long to respond to adequately.

In addition, farmers could be holding another 15 million bags due to a cash crunch at the National Cereals and Produce Board.

Between 2011 and 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced a programme that would see farmers supplied with farm inputs and trained on good agnomical practices. 

The programme dubbed Good Agricultural Practices saw the government provide farm inputs for free to farmers with one acre. The farmers were also trained on good agronomical practices under level one of this scheme. At level two, the government offered training and organized farmers in groups, and linked them to markets.

With the onset of rainfall, the government is supposed to provide subsidized farm input to ensure crops like canola, barley, wheat and even perennial crops like hay, grow more evenly.

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The government is planning to roll out an e-wallet scheme across the country for farmers to equip themselves with relevant IT skills as well as access government subsidies on fertilizer, seeds, and drugs among other farm inputs.

This is opposed to the current situation where the producers are forced to follow long protocol systems to access such information.

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Currently, the average age of a Kenyan farmer is 65 years with the aging population presenting a challenge in agricultural production.

To mitigate against this, the government is encouraging the youth to venture into agriculture as the sector becomes more mechanized and technology driven to boost production.

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