Columnists

Building resilience in food supply chains during dry seasons

drought

A herds boy walks on a dry dam at Lerata area in Samburu East on July 15, 2021. The National Drought Management Authority projected a drought was likely to hit the country from August to December. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NMG

Summary

  • The National Drought Management Authority has projected a drought that is likely to hit the country from August to December.
  • Responding to this drought warning and building resilience in our food supply chain shall require significant changes in the way our supply chains are designed.
  • Governments, individuals, NGOs, academia, development partners and multilateral agencies must come together to educate the public on the need to embrace sustainable practices.

Kenya’s economy is dependent on agriculture in terms of its contribution to the gross domestic product, the provision of raw materials, foreign exchange earnings and employment creation. The sector is, however, increasingly becoming vulnerable to risks associated with climate change. The unpredictable rainfall followed by severe droughts seem to be a common phenomenon.

Droughts are usually characterised by food shortages, price spikes and reductions in food quality, water shortages, the prevalence of communicable diseases, power rationing, high child mortality rates, malnutrition and increased government spending on healthcare. Coupled with the effects of the corona pandemic, the country is staring at a crisis if adequate measures are not taken to mitigate the impacts of the impending socio-economic risks.

Global food supply chain systems depend on stable, uninterrupted food production and flow. For instance, when locusts invaded parts of East Africa in early 2020, the net effect was that most of Kenya’s strategic food reserve diminished, reducing supply, thus escalating the prices of essential commodities in the market.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Covid-19 pandemic, the locust invasion and the armyworm infestations have placed unprecedented stresses on food supply chains, with bottlenecks in farm labour, processing, transport and logistics, as well as momentous shifts in demand.

The National Drought Management Authority has projected a drought that is likely to hit the country from August to December. This is coming against a backdrop of hard economic times exacerbated by the effects of Covid-19 that the populace is yet to come into terms with.

August and September have always been over the years, a harvesting season in the country and in the region. Such times call for prudence in the management of our harvested grain stock.

Usually, natural calamities get us unawares, worse still, we often do not take the predictions seriously until they adversely affect us.

Droughts, floods, earthquakes and natural calamities can be traced to antiquity. However, countries that prudently managed such crises in the past came out of them stronger.

Unfortunately, such periods also present opportunities for unscrupulous businesses and “unethical” politicians to make money on the already buffeted citizens by importing produce from the neighbouring countries.

Reports from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the agricultural sector performance decelerated from 6.1 percent in 2018 to 3.6 percent in 2019. Maize production, for instance, declined from 44.6 million bags in 2018 to 39.8 million bags in 2019.

Extreme weather phenomenon characterised by drought during the first half of the year, followed by high rainfall in the second half, reducing the production of some crops.

Droughts have a direct impact on the economy and affect the linkages between different sub-economies, ecologies and communities. For instance, during the drought of 2008 to 2011, the economy lost an estimated Sh968.6 billion with the livestock sector alone incurring 72 percent of that loss, equivalent to Sh699.3 billion. Nine percent of all livestock was lost.

Protecting water sources against contamination, developing alternative sources such as micro dams, ponds and wells, the use of reserve sources of groundwater and water rationing, recovering the water holding capacity of soils through tree planting, the protection of riverbanks and wetlands are among key mitigation measures that are supposed to be implemented.

In Europe, most countries are reviewing their European drought management planning policy and legislation.

More specifically, Spain has developed a long track record in water legislation, hydrological planning, and drought risk management strategies.

Governments, individuals, NGOs, academia, development partners and multilateral agencies must come together to educate the public on the need to embrace sustainable practices.

The most recent Drought Management Plans were approved in December 2018. These include an innovative common diagnosis system that distinguishes droughts and water scarcity situations in terms of indicators, triggers, phases, and actions.

Responding to this drought warning and building resilience in our food supply chain shall require significant changes in the way our supply chains are designed. It shall also require transformative and integrated economic, social and environmental policies to address the underlying causes of supply chain vulnerabilities during this period.

Otieno Panya, Lecturer and researcher, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.