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Opinion & Analysis

EDITORIAL: It’s time to resolve food crisis once and for all

A pastoralist feeds his animals. There have been inadequate rains in parts of country. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A pastoralist feeds his animals. There have been inadequate rains in parts of country. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Amidst the attention-grabbing presidential election petition at the Supreme Court, a new report has warned that millions of Kenyans are at risk of hunger.

While that is unlikely to attract a lot of attention, in the next few months it might make for grave reading. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says some 3.4 million Kenyans, mainly in arid and semi-arid areas, are staring at a bleak future in the wake of poor long rains earlier in the year.

This is familiar territory for the country that has only recently been grappling with acute food shortages and hunger.

Indeed, according to the weatherman, things will get worse before getting better. The coming short rains might end before the maize crop flowers. What immediately comes to mind is the recent maize flour subsidy programme that came with importation of tonnes of maize. It will not be stretching imagination to think the subsidy should continue longer than planned.

The authorities, however, need to be careful in their planning. Maize will be coming into the market from key producing areas in about a month, meaning it will be a delicate balancing act.

Inasmuch as it is important we feed the country, it is also critical that we do not get our farmers into a cycle of desperation by flooding the market with imports.

We have to note that a lot of foreign exchange that can be used to import critical machinery is already going into food we have enough capacity to produce locally.

However, it is important to get to the heart of the problem beyond short-term disaster management. It is clear that the weather patterns no longer favour our traditional rain-fed agriculture.

Unless we get irrigation right—beyond talking about it—we can as well prepare for long-term hunger. With the billions we have invested in this area, there is little to show for it.

Again, we should also think about other investment areas that can bring us prosperity if we have to keep importing food.

The government set to be installed, probably shortly, needs to resolve the food issue for the long haul. And five years is enough time to lay the foundation.

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