Solving hunger crisis needs new approach

Hunger-stricken residents of Girich village in Marsabit

Hunger-stricken residents of Girich village in Marsabit County on April 2, 2022. The National Drought Management Authority says 4.1 million Kenyans face hunger this month due to food shortage.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says 4.1 million Kenyans face hunger this month due to food shortage. Last month, data showed 3.1 million people were starving. Children are starving, raising levels of malnutrition. The shortage of food supply and generation is contributed by severe drought, conflicts and economic woes triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

NDMA lists six counties—Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu, Isiolo and Laikipia—as being at the critical alarm stage of drought. Where are their leaders? What are they doing in government if they can’t help their own? How will the national government save more people from going without food and water?

Whenever hunger hits hard, Kenya is quick to ask for aid—from UN agencies and others. Over-relying on foreign help leads to the dependency syndrome. Hungry Kenyans cannot think or do things to take themselves out of the situation. Whenever the government fails to help them, it is blamed. “Serikali saidia (Government please! Help!)” is a common phrase that signals the dependency on help from others.

Kenya is becoming a well-prepared ‘graveyard’ and burning jungle for the vulnerable. With the high cost of living, hunger will leave only the mighty and ‘Who is Who’ standing. Politicians are telling Kenyans to elect them so that food can be affordable. That is gambling with the lives of millions. Food security comes before the right to vote. It will be ironical for empty stomachs to endure long queues and scorching sun to vote for individuals who only care about themselves.

Instead of disbursing millions of shillings to the arid areas, the government should use the money to turn these regions into productive agricultural sites and food reserves. Standard irrigation methods will improve agricultural production. Busy lands will create employment opportunities for the residents.

In Israel, for example, the drip irrigation technology has enabled growing of crops at extreme limits of scarce water. Hydroponics and vertical gardens will help in growing crops with little water. Boreholes should be drilled and dams dug. Those entrusted with the funds for such vital projects should be transparent and accountable so that the disease of corruption can be cured.

Poverty and food insecurity are joined at the hip. For majority of the poor, agriculture is the main source of livelihood. It is only when poverty is alleviated that food insecurity is diminished. But the population dynamics of the vulnerable communities are not encouraging. Large families increase the dependency burden, eliciting the need for family planning and sex education.

Warning systems for drought extremes should be established to alert pastoralists and guide herders to better grazing lands. Ranching is another solution that is open to the arid lands.

Kelvin Mutai, Narok

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