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Columnists

Turkana hunger a man-made disaster

Asokon Lomulin
Asokon Lomulin inside her hut at Kamekwi village in Turkana where residents are facing starvation due to a prolonged drought. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA  

Predictably, we have chosen to blame the tragedy and horrifying human suffering happening to fellow citizens in Turkana County on the weather. Yet what is happening is a man-made disaster. The consequences of poor planning and bad policies by the government.

Economic policy-making on agriculture and food security has been reduced to a game of empty promises and pipe dreams.

If you think I am being over- critical, or exaggerating, then grab a copy of the recently-published Budget Policy Statement for 2019- 2022 to see the empty promises listed there.

The lengths our economic managers are prepared to go in promising what they very well know will not be achievable within the time frames they have put in the document and the long lists of empty promises and pipedreams to the taxpayer is simply baffling.

On the chapter on food security at paragraph 92 of the Budget Policy Statement (BPS)- National Treasury secretary Henry Rotich makes the following promises.

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First, that within three years, maize production will increase from 40 million to 67 million bags. Secondly, that by 2022, rice production will increase almost four-fold, from 112,800 to 406, 486 metric tonnes.

Thirdly, that the government will increase potato production from 1.2 million to six million metric tons within the three year period. Fourth, that meat production will increase from 700,000 to 990,000 tonnes by 2022.

Food reserves

Fifth, that milk production will go up from 630 million to one billion litres by 2020. Finally, that the government has set aside $14 million to increase strategic food reserves to eight million bags in the medium.

Let’s look at the maize situation for a moment. If you look at trends from 10-year data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS)- the picture you see is that of stagnation in volumes. As a matter of fact, the graph has been sliding since a slight peak in 2013 and 2014.

And to increase annual production to 60 million bags in three years as promised in the BPS, you have to increase acreage under maize by a massive percentage. But where is the extra land? What policy makers forget when they give empty promises and misleading projections is they undermine the credibility of such important documents.

Where are the detailed concrete plans to achieve the lofty plans? With such exaggerated food production projection figures, you would expect that the big ambitions would also be reflected in big changes in budgetary allocations for agriculture and food production.

The statistics in the Budget Policy Statement show no such thing. As a matter of fact, total budgetary allocations for agriculture and food production have remained at below four percent of total expenditure for many years- including after President Uhuru Kenyatta came up with his Big 4 Agenda.

Potato production

But perhaps the most grotesque pipe dreams in the Budget Policy Statement are the projections for potato production in the next three years. According to the KNBS, annual potato production in 2017 was as 1.5 million tonnes. The Budget Policy Statement projects that this figure will increase to six million tonnes in a matter of three years. It does not make sense.

Food security is perennially accorded short shrift by our budget makers. According to KNBS numbers, 70 percent of Kenya’s food - measured by the value of gross marketed production - is accounted for by smallholder farmers. Yet when you look at the Budget Policy Statement, the bigger allocations target industrial farmers and cash-crop farming.

Compounding the problem is the fact that our financial sector also starves agriculture and food production of credit. The share of loans to the agriculture and food sector has fallen consistently to a tiny three percent essentially starving the sector of financial resources.

If you look at the social indicators of some of the districts that used to do well in the 1960s and 70s, you will find that all measures of wellbeing have declined.

Income per capita has fallen and the nutrition status is worse, while the illiteracy level has risen. Turkana will happen again and again.

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