Thousands face hunger amid biting drought

Drought Marsabit

Residents of Sieslucho in Marsabit with carcasses of their animals that died due to drought. More than 12 million Kenyans in 23 counties are at risk of starvation.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are suffering as hunger strikes several counties, with families going without food as they watch their livestock die.

Last week, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that hunger in northern Kenya could worsen, with eight arid counties that have gone without rains since last year said to be in a dire situation.

“It’s foreseen that in the crop yield for the current season, we are going to have at least 50 percent of the five-year average,” said WFP Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Samuel Kiarie.

“Severe food insecurity levels are likely to surge beyond the emergency and catastrophic proportions if no proactive intervention measures were put in place.”

The WFP projected that counties including Lamu, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Tana River, Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot, Baringo, Kajiado, Narok, Laikipia, Nyeri, Embu, Meru, Isiolo, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera could slide into catastrophic food insecurity due to failed rains.

About three million people reported to have been facing hunger in February and March. Farmers are contending with poor rainfall patterns that affected last year’s agricultural production, seeing the sector that supports about a third of Kenya’s GDP contract by 0.1 per cent, its lowest performance since 2017, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) stated in the 2022 Economic Survey.

KNBS reported that last year, maize production dropped by 12.8 per cent to 36.7 million bags, recording the crop’s lowest performance since 2017. As a result, this year, the cost of Kenya’s staple, ugali, has jumped 100 per cent, with maize flour price hitting highs of Sh240 last month.

KNBS also attributed falling agricultural productivity to higher costs of farm inputs, with farmers spending more to buy fertilisers, insecticides and other necessities. Some of them decided to use their land for other activities, while others planted without the inputs.

The cost of importing chemical fertilisers increased by 37.7 per cent between 2018 and last year, from Sh37,167 per tonne to Sh51,168, and insecticides by 3.1 per cent, from Sh689,964 per tonne to Sh711,190. Farmers have been complaining about high prices of farm inputs, with fertiliser prices shooting to a high of Sh6,000 per 50kg bag by April, before the government announced a subsidy that would reduce the price to Sh2,800.

“The government has set aside Sh5.7 billion to subsidise 2.28 million 50kg bags of fertiliser for farmers growing food crops. These quantities will support the cultivation of 1.13 million acres,” Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said in April.

The performance of the agricultural sector has been falling, with the Commission on Revenue Allocation last year indicating that counties that rely heavily on agriculture performed poorly on revenues, though the national government continues to starve it of funding in the budget.

In the 2022/23 budget, the sector was allocated Sh66.8 billion, representing less than two per cent of the total budget.