Party manifesto failed to address the food insecurity puzzle
It is doubtful that the next president of Kenya will be able to end the rampant food insecurity in the country if the manifestos of frontrunners of the country’s August 9, 2022 presidential election are anything to go by.
The frontrunners Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance and William Ruto of Kenya Kwanza unveiled their manifestos on June 6, 2022 and June 30 respectively. Both documents focus, among others, on improving education, health, manufacturing, women affairs, national security, water provision and leadership. Indeed, these are key areas of concern for the citizens. In particular, the runaway cost of education, healthcare and food insecurity are cause for alarm to many Kenyans.
Food commodity prices have practically gone through the roof. So dire is the situation that the government recently lowered taxation on maize imports in a bid to tackle maize shortages and bring down the cost of Kenya’s staple food, which will enable many families enjoy their favourite meal- ugali. Further, it later subsidized the cost of maize flour.
However, a question arises: Do both manifestos address themselves fully to revamping the agricultural sector with a view to solving the perennial problem of food insecurity? Will Kenya really attain the Right to Food as espoused in the Constitution? The answer is no. The manifestos appear to dwell on generalities that we have all become accustomed to during every electioneering period.
Raila promises to focus on climate smart agriculture, agro processing, improved livestock farming and the better management of the under utilised blue economy. This promise comes at a time the pastoralist communities in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas of the north are staring at starvation and a massive loss of animals as a consequence of a ravaging drought that has assailed the area for at least four years running.
Not much has been done to help the farmers beyond the occasional statements from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Office of the President.
In January 2022, for instance, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) warned that between three and four million Kenyans were affected by drought after the short October to December rains failed for the third year running due to climate change.
Following FEWS’s alert, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared drought a national disaster and directed the National Treasury to release Sh2 billion for mitigation purposes.
Unfortunately, several months after the presidential directive, Members of Parliament under the Pastoralist Parliamentary Group repeated their plea for food and water for their people. Apparently, the government did not act.
The overarching need to make Kenya’s north more habitable cannot be overemphasised, which is why more attention has to be paid to environmental matters by the incoming government.
The Gross County Product (GCP) and Economic Survey 2022 reports make a strong case for the urgent need to mitigate adverse effects of climate change and improve agriculture. According to a Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report, most of the 47 Kenyan counties face serious challenges in their quest to improve their local agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
The county performance indicator ranked Kiambu, Mombasa, Nakuru and Machakos as the wealthiest devolved governance units. In 2020, the counties had Sh553 billion, Sh467 billion, Sh480 billion and Sh313 billion respectively as their Gross County Products (GCP).
Ranking lower on the performance scale in terms of GDP are the counties of Isiolo (Sh26 billion), Samburu, (Sh29.2 billion), Tana River (Sh29.8 billion), Lamu (Sh32 billion) and Wajir (Sh49 billion).
A common denominator among the bottom ten is that they all fall under the Arid and Semi-arid areas classification. The bottom line is that these counties have little or no agricultural production, yet we all acknowledge that agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
Proof of the power of agriculture in boosting local economies lies in the fact that the KNBS report says agriculture dependent counties of Bomet, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Murang’a, Kericho and Nyandarua posted much better economic outlooks on account of their agricultural production.
Food production can be further improved if the government gives incentives to farmers. Farm input subsidies, including good prices for maize after harvest would go a long way in motivating disillusioned farmers to get back to farming, especially in Kenya’s food basket of the Rift Valley, besides encouraging diversification of crops.
Party manifestos should have taken note of Treasury CS Ukur Yatani’s utterances to the effect that “Agriculture is the lifeline and backbone of our economy where food security as the most basic of all life support becomes quite essential. We must balance rainfall and irrigation due to climate change”.
The next government must go beyond mere words on agriculture, having taken cognisance of the fact that erratic rainfall caused by adverse climatic changes have rendered rain-fed agriculture highly unreliable. Crop failure has been reported in most parts of the country following below average rains.
The way to go is for the incoming government to adopt proactive measures to ensure irrigation becomes a viable option instead of dependence on rain-fed agriculture that has been reduced to a guessing game, largely due to climate change.
None of the manifestos talks about even increasing funding to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) with a view to enabling it come carry out research and produce drought and pest resistant seeds that could aid agricultural production in Kenya’s North.
We shouldn’t, however, lose sight of the fact that there is a growing water shortage countrywide as populations grow bigger. Demand for more water calls for the sinking of boreholes where underground water reservoirs exist.
Turkana, for instance, experiences water shortages year in year out, yet it sits on one of the largest replenishable underground water reservoirs in Africa that is estimated to have at least 250 billion cubic metres of water. With commitment, tapping into this reservoir can turn Turkana into an agricultural county within a few years.
Addressing these issues will put us on the road to food security.
By Njoroge wa Njoroge