Early Warning System Snapshot
Far and wide food crisis continues to loom around in different counties with Early Warning Bulletin January 2023 indicating drought situation continues to remain critical in 22 of the 23 ASAL counties due to the late onset and poor performance of the much-anticipated October to December 2022 short rains, coupled with four previous consecutive failed rainfall seasons.
This outlook is worrying and only demonstrates that climate impacts are not yet resolved. The most stressful pain point is crop failure as 80% of the populace in the affected counties depend on food from crops and rainfed agriculture.
Data shows that 4 million Kenyans are now facing hunger with children and women being affected the most and are in dire need of relief assistance. Flagging off relief food can not be sustainable to fully resolve the hunger crisis.
Attributes of malnutrition
A decrease in the production and supply of staples, including milk, has immensely disrupted food intake patterns and dietary diversity. Additionally, there are incidences of low food intake and poor feeding habits linked to knowledge deficits and frustrations with intrahousehold food distribution. All these markers of events contribute to elevated rates of malnutrition in the ASAL areas.
Water is needed more than ever
It is a sad affair that needs to be fixed immediately. Moisture stress has led to losses for farmers in most crop-producing regions and low harvests are expected or rather nothing at all. Crops wilted due to low short-lived rainfall distribution.
Residents in Meru and Tharaka Nithi regions are in need of water as a priority over fertilizer to carry on their farming. Crops failed to grow, reaching knee heights, because of extended droughts.
In the previous years on average, they have been producing enough and even selling the surplus but now are on the prospect of food aid list from the government.
The provision of water through piping systems or boreholes by the government together with its partners will bail a lot of farmers out of incapacitated food production. With water, they can do more farming and sufficiently feed themselves. Irrigation can turn vast less-utilized lands into food hubs that produce across all seasons.
There is need to harmonize policies around water to save our fragile economy. Industry, agriculture, health, environment, transport and other sectors of the economy depend on water. That means water must be at the heart of policies.
Climate change mitigation
There is an ongoing national call to plant trees to increase green coverage and reduce carbon emissions. Furthermore, trees attract rainfall and most-time act as water catchment areas. The program is worth doing but the underserved regions will still need water supply to manage the planted trees.
Incorporating digital tools in the management of greenhouse gases will cut down the emissions and in return reward the good environment ambassadors, of which 80% are farmers.
Research shows that Agriculture alone produces 24% of the total greenhouse gases. Efforts must be channeled to this sector to safeguard it from churning down itself. Interfering with food sources means increasing health burdens, loss of livelihoods, and destruction of the entire ecosystem.
Sequestration of carbon and storing it in the soil is one of the turnaround ways to keep the atmosphere free from carbon emission, through the right farming practices such as cover cropping and controlled use of fertilizers.
The way forward: Short and long-term
Data from the early warning system indicate the country is facing deficits in the national staple attributed to low production during the long rain season. This resulted from high-cost farm inputs and extended drought periods. Farmers were forced to reduce the acreage of production which led to low yields.
According to annual agriculture reports from National Cereal and Producing Board(NCPB), maize yields in the North Rift Valley Region have been on a declining trend, with production dropping from 27 million bags to 21 million last season.
The National Government of Kenya resorted to hard decision of importing duty-free maize to acutely bolster the country from the deficits being experienced until the major harvesting period in August. The first batch is expected to arrive in early March.
This will ensure that all fertile lands in the ASAL areas are turned into food hubs. Irrigation is one of the ways to beat seasonal gaps and realize sustainable food production.
The government needs to sink boreholes and do water piping to channel water to the affected areas to catapult food production and narrow down the dependency gap.
Studies show that water needs to be harnessed at many levels, primarily from the ground. Kenya needs to start tapping this resource.
95% of investment is put into the intensification of production. This leaves the food transportation sector with a hefty load to carry to ensure food reaches the consumers. Strengthening the food supply will ensure food moves from high-production areas to low-potential areas.
This calls for a reduction in fuel costs as the primary measure to increase the frequency of food mobility by food handlers in supply chains. Minimizing intercounty levy on food will allow more food mobility to areas that lack, at reasonable and affordable costs.
Cutting down food losses by changing the raw food into a form with a longer shelf life is an art that will ensure sustainability and increased income generation for farmers. Some crops can be solar dried and stored or ground into powder which is even shelf stable.
Transportation of transformed and value-added products is convenient as the products are not subject to perishability, or mechanical injury and take less space during packaging.
There is still hope for farmers with regard to available fertilizer. The subsidies continue to apply with the price still going at Ksh 3,500 for a 50 kg bag. The government of Kenya plans to flag supplies prior to the major planting season to 12 counties identified as main food baskets, to double production capacity compared to last year.
Farmers will receive fertilizer through e-wallets as the government moves to curb misappropriation by middlemen of this crucial planting material through the use of technology.
Kenya also plans to be importing fertilizer from Tanzania which is cheaper because of the proximity. The fertilizer is made from organic manure mixed with phosphorus which is also a cheaper raw material. Research shows it has the ability to double production capacity. The first supply is expected to be in the country from July 2023.
Apart from planting staple foods, farmers need to diversify their production to meet nutrition needs and economic returns. This will help them meet other household needs competing food access on the budget list.
There are crops with high market value compared to the staple. KALRO a government agricultural research institution has developed seeds that are drought resistant, take short time to mature and have high yields.
High-value crops take short time to mature, the market price is high, can be added value and their demand is high attributed to nutritional value and health benefits. Examples include groundnuts, beans, green grams, cashew nuts, master seeds and watermelon.
All that is important is to ensure there is food availability and access to all and the farmers and other food handlers in the supply chain benefit maximum from the efforts they invest in the food and nutrition sector.