More than four million Kenyans living in arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) are grappling with a biting food shortage due to drought that has decimated crops and livestock stoking food insecurity.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says about 4.1 million people living in dry lands within the country are struggling to put food on the table due to worsening climatic conditions that periodically hit the areas with extreme drought and floods.
This is an increase from an estimated 3.5 million people (which is about 21 per cent of arid and semi-arid lands population) that faced severe food insecurity by late 2021, which was also up from 2.1 million earlier in the year.
The government has been forced to intervene through emergency monetary and food relief to avert a humanitarian crisis amid a thinning public funds envelope.
Emergency food supply
The National Treasury allocated Sh20 billion to emergency drought and security intervention in the supplementary budget for the financial year 2021/22 to avail emergency food supply to the affected populations.
“Domestically, shortfall in rains and the continuing drought in the semi-arid regions are adding to uncertainties and pressuring vulnerable groups. Food insecurity is highest in the arid and semi-arid lands due to vulnerability to natural disasters and exposure to extreme weather events,” said IMF.
Most parts of the country faced prolonged droughts for most parts of last year which has extended to this year, affecting production of key food commodities such as maize and milk, leading to price increases.
Last year, maize production declined by 12.8 per cent from 42.1 million bags in 2020 to 36.7 million bags in 2021 due to the dry conditions leading to a maize shortage that sent maize flour prices retailing at as high as Sh230 per a two-kilogramme packet.
The IMF is pushing Kenya to extend financial support to vulnerable households to supplement its subsidy programmes that have led to a stabilisation of fuel prices and a cut in fertiliser and maize flour costs.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday announced a reduction in maize flour prices to Sh100 per a two-kilogramme packet down from Sh230 after the state inked a subsidy deal with maize millers.
“More targeted programmes to support vulnerable households should accompany the ongoing review of the fuel pricing mechanism and plans for reforms to ensure that pricing actions are always aligned to the approved budget,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Antoinette Sayeh.
The IMF said 600,000 Kenyans became vulnerable in June alone due to the high inflation that has seen the prices of basic commodities shoot up.
The inflation has also hit companies in key sectors of the economy by slowing down demand for goods and services, forcing some to downsize their workforce to lower costs, according to Stanbic Bank Kenya’s purchasing managers index (PMI) released this month.
“The temporary hold on upward adjustment of fuel pump prices gives government time to put in place appropriate targeted measures to cushion the rapidly rising number of vulnerable persons impacted (an additional 0.6 million in the month of June 2022 alone),” said IMF Executive Director Ita Mannathoko.