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Mitigating recurrent food production challenges in the country …

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The ongoing drought is expected to adversely affect the agricultural sector which accounts for about 27 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for 60 per cent of total export earnings. The sector is a major source of livelihood for majority of the rural population in the country who depend on the key staples for food sustenance. Should the current weather conditions remain unchanged, the country’s crop and livestock production and consequently food security status remains at stake. Many Kenyans and especially the poor will continue to suffer the brunt of this situation through reduced food access.

Experts have predicted the impending food shortage and advised Kenyans to brace themselves for tough times ahead as prices of key agricultural consumer goods are expected to rise. The government however has maintained there is enough food to sustain the nation even as official estimates also indicate that over 1.3 million people are food insecure with majority living on food relief. The situation is ecpected to deteriorate further before getting better after the March April rains.

In a recent survey undertaken by Tegemeo Institute on maize crop prospects and the food situation in 2016/2017, mixed signals on potential crop performance were noted. Production for 2016 was estimated at about 30 million bags, some 7 million bags lower than 2015. At the time the study speculated there was possibility of the La Niña weather phenomenon occuring in late 2016 and thus compromising the short rains harvest. This has come to pass as the short rains came one month late and lasted for only two weeks, which is not adequate for crop maturity. Shortfall in domestic maize supply in the months of May, June, and probably July that may require to be augmented by imports. The report also showed that we will therefore need between 6 and 9 million bags of imports to cover the shortfall period.

Maize is a major staple consumed by many households and its limited supply is often construed to mean food deficit. The current food insecurity problems are attributed to factors such as low productivity, frequent droughts in the country, high costs of production and high costs of inputs for which a large proportion of the population has low purchasing power due to high levels of poverty. Many Kenyans are already bearing the burden with rising food bills due to escalating food prices and this may last for several months till mid this year.

Continuous monitoring of the situation will enable identification of key challenges and opportunities for increased production in future as well as areas of policy intervention. The Institute as part of its mandate to offer evidence backed policy advice to stakeholders’ advocates for policy measures to prepare early for a maize shortage. Taking into account the lag-time in procurement processes there is need to manage potential deficits in order to help contain food prices as well as making early consideration of potential sources of such imports given the drought in the region which may trigger export bans in surplus producing countries and the limited availability of GMO free maize. An evaluation of the 50% Common External Tariff (CET) on imports is also needed for potential imports of maize from outside EAC or COMESA.

Despite favorable conditions for production, the nation has over the years grappled with similar situations, thus implying unexploited potential and/or lack of sufficient policy support for increased production. Measures such as investments in irrigation and water-harvesting devices to contain weather induced pressures that have consistently dogged the economy will also go a long way in offering long term solutions to the need for consistent adequate food production in the future. In a previous report, the Institute had advocated for irrigation development as a strategy the government can employ to improve food security. Lessons drawn from irrigated maize production studies showed that irrigation is profitable and that the Galana Kulalu food security project has the potential to produce about half of the country’s food requirement thus contributing significantly to food security and the GDP through the incomes earned. Efficient use of land, fertilizer and water under both intensive and extensive maize production under irrigation, were identified as factors that would contribute to lowering the unit cost of production and lead to increased food production. Since the production of irrigated maize is flexible, there can be more than one crop in a year thus implying that high returns can be achieved if production is targeted at seasons when there is low supply of maize in the market. We advocate it is time that concerned stakeholders pool in efforts to ensure necessary measures are put in place to restore the agriculture sector to a viable state.

By Francis Karin and Judy Kimani, Tegemeo Institute

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