Drought, farming crisis is food for thought

In the Mount Kenya region, one of the places in the country that always has adequate food for their people, the anger over a biting food shortage there is palpable.

While the government has prioritised the issuance of subsidised fertiliser to farmers to boost crop production, they are reeling from the effects of drought.

For a region that is used to feeding itself and selling a surplus, failed rains have seen the locals needing relief food for their own survival. Food aid is already being distributed in Kirinyaga, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru counties with some 500,000 people in dire need.

Ironically, as the food shortage bites in central Kenya and the perennially famine-prone northern regions, farmers in the North Rift are scrambling to dispose of their maize at throwaway prices. This is, certainly, an indictment of the agricultural authorities’ decision-making.

Before allowing the maize imports that have forced the farmers into desperation, their crop should first have been mopped up and supplied to the regions experiencing food shortages.

Maize farmers are staring at heavy losses as the price has plummeted since the arrival of some of the expected 10 million bags of duty-free imports cleared by the Kenya Kwanza Alliance administration.

While the government certainly has good intentions for farmers, some of the decisions present a problem, hence the need to harmonise things and avert adverse effects. Frustrated farmers are now hawking the staple: A 90-kilogramme bag of maize is being sold at Sh4,000, down from Sh5,300, and the price is likely to decline further.

Climate change

Climate change, which has been blamed for unpredictable weather, has made rain-fed agriculture increasingly unreliable. As the Mt Kenya farmers have rightly pointed out, the priority should be the provision of water for irrigation and not the supply of subsidised farm inputs, including fertilisers, or giving the people food aid.

There is a lot of agricultural expertise and knowledge on the way forward. The construction of dams and sinking of boreholes in at least every subcounty can reduce reliance on unpredictable rainfall and ensure that farmers grow enough food crops for their domestic consumption and also for sale.


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