Earlier this year, the entire country faced unexpected shortages of rain that greatly shook the agricultural sector. Everyone felt the impact and “serikali saidia” was the outcry from the affected citizens. Kenya is a highly drought prone country because of its peculiar eco-climatic conditions. The nation has been stricken by various disasters in the past. The most dominant disasters being; droughts, floods, fire, terrorism, technological accidents, diseases and epidemics. They disrupt people’s livelihoods, destroy the infrastructure, divert planned use of resources, interrupt economic activities and retard development.
The delayed rains have adversely affected the planting season and a below-average rainfall performance is likely to result in lower food production, inadequate fodder for livestock and inadequate water and electricity supply, presenting significant challenges to food security and the inflation rate outlook.
Agriculture remains the backbone of Kenya’s economy, directly contributing 24% of the annual GDP and another 27% indirect contribution (ASDS, 2010-2020). The sector is therefore critical in creating employment and uplifting the living standards of the Kenyan people. More importantly, agriculture has been identified as one of the key sectors to deliver the 10% annual economic growth rate envisaged in the economic pillar of Vision 2030. However, it is the most challenged sector which demands a lot of attention.
To be specific, 5 years ago in the year 2014, it was reported by the National Environmental Authority (NEMA) and the Kenya Meteorological Service (KMS) that drought in Kenya adversely affected all sectors of the economy and the population at large. This is because it;
i) affects water supply in both rural and urban areas,
ii) leads to reduced hydropower generation and power rationing,
iii) causes crop failures and reduced food security,
iv) causes deaths of humans, livestock and wildlife,
v) leads to job losses when industries shut down as resources get depleted,
vi) causes the deterioration of human health due to malnutrition and poor access to quality water
vii) causes conflicts between communities and wildlife,
viii) causes government debt / borrowing to import food to feed the hungry nation.
Consequently, the current situation seems to be the replica of the experience of 2014. There is inflation which is caused by a rapid increase in prices of the commodities, the majority being food stuffs. The increase in prices of essential commodities day by day especially agricultural products, has increased the cost of living for the common mwananchi. The inflation rate is reported to have increased by 6.58%, meaning for every shs 100 you were spending previously, you need an additional shs 6.58. All these increases revolve around agriculture. Surely, they were right when they said, agriculture is the backbone of Kenyan economy.
According to the country drought report, Kenya experienced severe droughts, associated with major food crises, in the following years:
1997: a severe drought threatened the livelihoods of 2 million people.
2000: 4 million people were in need of food aid after Kenya was hit by its worst drought.
2004: the long rains (March–June) failed and the subsequent crop failure left more than 2.3 million people in need of assistance;
2005: another “national catastrophe” was declared in reference to the famine that affected 2.5 million in northern Kenya;
2010/2011: worst drought in 60 years. Affected 13.3M people in Kenya , Ethiopia and Somalia (Mwangi E., 2012) Droughts are generally associated with the failure of the seasonal rains. The two major rainfall seasons in Kenya are the long-rains (March to May, MAM)) and the short rains (October to December, OND).
Nevertheless, the consequences of droughts have been very frustrating to the government, consumers, and the farmers. Following these reports and experiences, it is therefore necessary for the government and other concerned parties to be on the lookout to reduce and curb the problem of food insecurity in the country. But how, one would ask are food shortages able to be reduced?
In conclusion, it is the responsibility of every Kenyan to ensure that there is food security in the country. A collective role between the farmers and the government is a prudent solution. But how? First, the government and farmers should invest in good farming methods such as the application of fertilizers and pesticides, greenhouse technology etc. Farmers should also adopt drip irrigation to save on water. Secondly, farmers in areas that have been adversely affected by the changing weather conditions should be encouraged to cultivate crops that are adapted to such new weather conditions. Thirdly, the government should support farmers and offer the needed training on how to reduce crop failures.
Youth and women should be encouraged and supported to actively engage in agribusiness. Startup funds needs to be more easily accessible to them. Finally, it is necessary for the government and other stakeholders to invest in needed infrastructure such as roads and storage facilities. This will help in preserving food crops and create opportunities for value addition. By implementing these measure and more the country will be in a better position to curb the food insecurity issue.
By Shadarach Arthur | agronomist |FarmLINK Kenya