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Have Kenya’s food security formulas failed to work?


A herder holds a carcass at Horri Guda in North Horr, Marsabit County. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KOMU | NMG

More Kenyans are facing starvation with the government saying the number has risen to 4.1 million in a month from 3.5 million as the climate-tied food crisis keeps the authorities awake.

According to the government, its hunger mitigation stands at 40 percent after the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance grew by 17 percent to 4.1 million in June, a new report shows.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) revealed the rise from 3.5 million people in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) counties has been against the backdrop of failed rains that hit agricultural production and the high food prices that brought more devastation to people who have endured multiple climate disasters.

The government says it set aside short-term and long-term interventions to mitigate the adverse effects of the silent pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives, although controlling drought is not possible.

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“The government has a cocktail of interventions to help the vulnerable cope with this crisis. First is the traditional intervention measures, including the hunger safety net programme, cash transfer, offtake programme and physical food distribution,” said Cyrus Oguna, the government spokesperson.

“Forty percent of the set long term interventions has been achieved and about Sh60 billion shilling is still needed to assist these communities,” said Mr Oguna.

The drought prolonged longer than had been anticipated, hence the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) now covers 23 counties from four.

At least 94,000 poor households have received Sh500,000 under the HSNP as of May.

Mr Oguna explained that the government had resorted to physical food distribution, citing technical challenges experienced in the cash transfer programme affecting some individuals in the target group.

“Initially the government undertook cash transfers of Sh3,000 per household from December last year but because of other technical challenges like unstable network as well as other vulnerable [people] not having mobile phones, it became a challenge to reach everyone in time,” he said.

Therefore, the government resorted to physical food distribution.

The distribution was, however, shrouded in integrity issues where the vulnerable did not get the necessary aid.

Mr Oguna said the cash transfer programme launched in December 2021 is targeting around 400,000 households in the affected counties.

The worsening drought conditions manifested in poor vegetation, increased distances to water sources in arid and semi-arid counties, worsening livestock conditions and reduced milk production.

“The drought situation continued to worsen in 19 of the 23 ASAL counties. This is attributed to the poor performance of the 2021 short rains coupled with previous two failed consecutive seasons and early cessation of the 2022 long rains seasons,” said NDMA.

Livestock mortalities, including cattle, sheep and camel in Samburu were the highest at 16.90 percent, followed by Mandera (11.30 percent), Isiolo (8.01 percent), Lamu (7.63 percent), Marsabit (7.4 percent) and Garissa (6.8 percent).

“The current pasture and browse condition are below normal as compared to normal years with slight improvement recorded as compared to the previous month due to minimal showers of rains received during the May onset which led to little regeneration of pasture and browse,” said NDMA.

“The government introduced the offtake program- ground and commercial. Commercial offtake is where the Kenya Meat Commission buys sick livestock from the farmers, slaughters and sells to the government which distributes to the people as part of the food distribution program,” said Oguna.

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“Ground offtake- the government buys the livestock, slaughters and distributes to the farmers.”

The larger part of northern and eastern Kenya has suffered a devastating drought for much of 2022, aggravating food insecurity for counties still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The impacts of the food price crisis manifest as increased commodity prices, political instability, food insecurity, higher poverty index, and declining agricultural productivity which has progressively diminished access to food for the poorer sections of the population.

“These have led to increased trekking distances to water points and grazing sites for livestock leading to worsening livestock body condition scores and leading to mortality attributable to drought effects,” said NDMA in their report.

Another intervention is water tracking where the government gives water to areas in suffering from acute shortage through the county governments.

This is done by rehabilitating boreholes and constructing new ones.

Many impoverished households spend a higher percentage of their income on food. These households are mainly headed by women.

“Families headed by women are more likely to be food insecure than those headed by men,” said the World Food Programme.

The March-May rainfall has been low, irregular and poorly distributed in much of the distressed regions, which has affected the production of food.

The national drought management authority says that about 1 million children aged below five years face malnutrition due to failed rainy seasons in the previous year with the October-December season.

“Acute malnutrition has also been noted across the counties with 942,000 cases of children aged 6-59 months acutely malnourished and 134,000 cases of pregnant or lactating women acutely malnourished in need of treatment,” the report read in part.

Children are the demographic group most vulnerable to hunger. This is because their growing bodies are more vulnerable to other problems hunger causes including stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies.

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A report by research company Oxfam and Save the children dubbed ‘Dangerous delay 2, the cost of inaction’ revealed that on average one person is likely dying every 48 seconds from acute hunger linked to conflict, Covid-19, the climate crisis and inflationary and market pressures accelerated by the current conflict in Ukraine.

The report also warned that the hunger crisis could be the worst it has been in four decades.

“The very real prospect that the rains will fail for a fourth consecutive season, placing Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia into a drought of a length not experienced in the last 40 years,” the report read.

The report by the international aid groups says the world has the food and the money to stop hundreds of thousands of people from dying of hunger, but it lacks "the political courage" and that “starvation is a political failure,” added Oxfam and Save the Children.

Some of the challenges facing Kenyans in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) include affordability of food due to skyrocketing prices, lack of market for produce, poor weather conditions, and the price of farm inputs among others.

Several households rely on agriculture hence when the rains fail, they lack agricultural produce and income. This means that families eat less and fewer portions.

Households are also likely to increase consumption-based coping strategies like reducing the number of daily meals, eating less nutritious foods, limiting adult intake for children to eat, borrowing food from friends and relatives and sale of more livestock than normal.

It’s imperative to support the farming sector and industry because of the number of people who rely on it as their main source of income, and also because it needs to produce more food, cheaply.

NDMA proposes the government should provide food assistance and scale-up cash transfers targeting households which are currently food insecure as a result of the prevailing drought stress.

It should also provide livestock feeds and supplements, support for commercial and emergency livestock offtake as well as vaccination against diseases.

Most hunger-stricken counties are also war-torn towns.

NDMA recommends the government should facilitate inter communities peace dialogues and resource use agreements.

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These counties should have stabilization centres for acute malnutrition cases, mass screening and integrated health outreaches and food safety monitoring.

There is a need to increase agricultural productivity in the country. This may require the government to expedite the implementation processes for the various policies that have been formulated.

Adoption of value addition mechanisms will help to identify who does what at what point of the value chain and who is likely to benefit or bear the costs of implementing the proposed interventions.

The government should also support efforts to modernise farming practices and improve farmer links to markets and inputs, like seeds and fertilisers.

These interventions despite being around for years have been marred by irregularities. For instance, sometimes the wrong people get the wrong inputs or they don’t know how to apply nutrients correctly.

In addition to this, farmers need more access to finance, such as bank loans. With this, farmers will be able to purchase the equipment, more farm labour and inputs required for optimal food production.

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