What you need to know:
- The Sh7 billion allocated last year was meant to place 10,000 acres under irrigation but, so far, only 2,500 acres have been achieved.
- Two years down the line, the 70,000 bags are not even enough to meet demands of just one county in need of food aid.
- Food security was one of Jubilee’s five core campaign pillars, promising to put a million acres under irrigation within five years.
- National Irrigation Board will need Sh500 billion to put the required one million acres under irrigation.
- At least 1.3 million people are currently in need of food aid.
How the Galana Kulalu scheme has managed to produce only 70,000 bags of maize despite being allocated Sh7 billion is raising serious questions about the government’s projects aimed at enhancing food security.
The Sh7 billion allocated last year was meant to place 10,000 acres under irrigation but, so far, only 2,500 acres have been achieved.
When it was launched, the project was touted to be a game changer with a potential to produce 20 million bags which is 41 per cent of Kenya’s annual maize consumption and bring the price of unga down to Sh83.
But two years down the line, the 70,000 bags are not even enough to meet demands of just one county in need of food aid.
The National Irrigation Board (NIB) says they have taken long to realise their target because they have been testing different varieties of maize in a bid to find the best variety.
“Remember this is land that has never been cultivated since the beginning of the world so finding out which varieties will do well takes time,” the board’s General Manager Gitonga Mugambi told the Sunday Nation.
Food security was one of Jubilee’s five core campaign pillars, promising to put a million acres under irrigation within five years. However, NIB says it has managed 480,000 acres so far.
“I am not saying all is well but there has been some effort to reduce the country’s dependence on rain,” said Mr Mugambi.
“What Kenyans tend to forget is that during previous dry seasons, the focus was always about Turkana but right now no one is talking about the county because we have initiated 18 new projects along River Turkwell,” he said.
But Mr Mugambi says NIB will need Sh500 billion to put the required one million acres under irrigation.
The prolonged dry spell has left many counties in dire need of food aid. Figures from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) show that by Friday it had released Sh81 million to 11 of the worst affected counties.
Nevertheless, it is yet to release Sh4.7 billion that had been requested by an inter-ministerial committee on Monday, which means it could take weeks before the required food reaches the affected areas.
On Tuesday, Treasury Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge told Parliament that the request would have to go through the required government procedures before the money is released. Treasury had a week ago released Sh250 million to the Ministry of Special Programmes for the same purpose.
Interestingly, the Meteorological Department had as early as December last year warned about the possibility of depressed rainfall in the March-May long rains season in some parts of the country.
“Drought planning must be viewed as an ongoing process, continuously evaluating our changing vulnerabilities and how the governments and stakeholders can work to lessen risk,” said Evans Chimoita, an agriculture economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
“Through managing the risks and not the crisis, the impact of this drought would have been lessened by a huge percentage if there was early action, mitigation and building the long-term resilience of people living in arid areas instead of preferring short term symptomic relief,” he said.
In the last two decades, Kenya has experienced drought every three years; in 1996, 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2011 but the approach has remained largely the same.
But the government is optimistic, saying programmes aimed at achieving food security are on course and the number of people in need of aid has reduced.
“Improving food security takes time. Our population is increasing at a rate of about a million people per year and our food production is also rising but not at the same rate,” Dr James Nyoro, a Food Security and Climate Change expert in the Office of the President says.
“The reality is that we are facing climate change. The question we need to be asking ourselves is how we will ensure the production of farmers does not reduce,” he said.
Government statistics show 54 per cent of farmers in rural areas are net buyers of food. This means they are unable to produce surplus food for sale but are also not able to feed themselves.
Data compiled from the Red Cross and government agencies shows some 1.5 million people were in need of food aid in the 1992 drought, 1.4 million in 1996, 4.4 million in 2005, 1.4 million in 2008, and 3 million in 2011.
At least 1.3 million people are currently in need of food aid, a figure Agriculture CS Willy Bett says shows a demonstration of successes in long term strategies by government.
“We are building sustainable mechanisms that ensure droughts will not become emergency situations. The situation in this country is that we have food surplus in some areas and lack of food in others which shows the issue is distribution,” he said.
However “This is what our teachers earn in just a year,” he told the Sunday Nation, “For every acre you put under irrigation, you will need Sh300,000.”
On Thursday Trans Nzoia governor Patrick Khaemba pleaded with the national government to purchase maize from the county’s farmers in order to give those who need it as aid saying the county has 6 million bags.