A few tips on how to make famine history

Wajir residents receiving relief food

Wajir residents who received relief food from well-wishers on October 31, 2022. The food was donated by the Emergency Famine Relief Distribution Initiative, a donor group.

Photo credit: COURTESY

Globally, Kenya is considered an agricultural founded country. Growing up, you are taught that agriculture is the backbone of our country. Why, then, do Kenyans die of hunger?

Famine remains a never-ending disaster in Kenya, especially in arid and semi-arid lands (Asals). Every five years or so, the country comes face to face with hunger. Famine is mostly stimulated by drought. The dry spell is largely caused by desertification and alteration of the climate. Factors like deforestation, global warming and industrial human activity fuel desertification.

The government can handle famine in a proper way. Famine is classified as a slow onset natural disaster—meaning, it gives room for proper preparedness standards to be put in place. We have a number of permanent waters cutting across the affected counties—such as River Tana, Mara River, Lake Turkana and Athi River. It will not cost the government much to connect the affected people to these waters via irrigation systems. We don’t need sophisticated dams that will give room for mega scandals.

People who do free-range animal farming for a livelihood, like the nomadic communities, should be enlightened about alternatives such as zero-grazing. People should be ready to drop their cultural modes of food production and embrace modern extensive agricultural methods.

Another reason why food production is declining is the fact that agricultural extension officers are never in action. They spend most of their time in offices rather than visiting farmers and advising them accordingly. They should conduct soil tests and advise farmers on what to do to increase their productivity. They should advise farmers on the best seed assortments for their soil types.

Comparative advantage

There is a need for comparative advantage when it comes to agriculture. Not every farmer should do maize or tea; rather, one should specialise in what he or she can do best. Mixed agriculture should be discouraged in counties like Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma and Nakuru, where land subdivision is high.

Through state-sponsored irrigation schemes, the Asals will turn green again. In good time, the rains will return. Meanwhile, the government should introduce drought-resistant crops in those areas. The Moi government introduced Prosopis juliflora (‘Mathenge’) without proper research on the plant’s side effects; today, it is a hazard in areas like Baringo County, decimating livestock that feeds on it.

Kenya imports rice from Egypt and Pakistan, countries that get little rainfall. Yet our rice irrigation schemes, such as Ahero and Mwea Tebere, are struggling, if not dead. The government can solve the famine dilemma by having the right people with wide knowledge and experience draft both short- and long-term mitigation approaches.

Ms Morungi is a disaster management consultant. [email protected]. @MorungiDouglas