The scorching sun burnt the face of the earth… the residents sat quietly. Some sought refuge in the nearby trees. The politicians ranted.
“We have allocated two billion to address food shortage…”
“We are reviving the irrigation schemes…”
The above statements indicate unfulfilled promises that have been made year in, year out. In the past few years, drought, hunger and food insecurity have wreaked havoc in Kenya. The situation has been burgeoning but there haven’t been any signs of it plummeting. Task forces have been formed to look into this issue year in year out. Reports have been prepared but nothing seems to be changing.
Anyone who has been following the news lately has seen how people have been dying of hunger. Gory pictures of emancipated children have been doing rounds on social media. Campaigns and fundraisers have been started by organizations beseeching people to contribute to the welfare of the hungry. However, this time, most campaigns have been unsuccessful. Most people have been reluctant to contribute to this ‘worthy cause.’ They feel that the recurrent nature of this problem is as a result of negligence and corruption of the very institutions tasked with addressing food shortage. This can be captured by a response to a post in a group am in where someone sought contributions for the Turkana people. He opined that……
“I am totally opposed to any Kenyan straining his or her pocket further to throw some cash to M-Changa or Paybill account to feed Kenyans starving in Turkana, I wish to incite the readers of this post to desist from doing so…This is not donation or charity from the philanthropic Ruto or Uhuru but taxpayers sweat shared to Turkana via the National government. Somebody make me understand how such a rich county could experience death as a result of drought, yesterday I said drought is not an accident, It is not an abrupt happening like the typhoons, it is foreseeable. Allow me to repeat the same. It is not the first time Turkana is experiencing drought.What were these allocations for? To pay employees? To take elites to devolution conference? To buy leaders choppers? Let Turkana residents go arrest their leaders and demand the money we all donated to them as a country.We got no other cash to contribute via M-Changa or M-Pesa, they can either choose to act or choose to die.Saying with a lot of love.”
Given that every person has the right to clean water and to be free of hunger under Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. What then should ask ourselves, is: why are people dying of hunger and yet they have they have these entitlements and money has been allocated for these programs. To deal with this issue, we ought to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What is ailing agricultural sector in Kenya?
- What can be done to offset these challenges?
In this article, we shall discuss the challenges and what can be done to offset these challenges.
What is ailing agricultural sector in Kenya?
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy. However, that backbone has been broken and the agricultural sector has been confined to a wheelchair wheeled around by politicians and citizens. There are many reasons for this. To begin with, there is lack of implementation of various agricultural laws and policies. Kenya has well-crafted laws and policies that have identified the various challenges and their solutions. For example, Vision 2030 identifies agriculture as a pillar for economic development. It states that if market access, proper land use, value addition among others are implemented, this will address the agricultural sector. But what is happening, farm produce is getting wasting away in lands, farmers are not able to access markets and land is being used unsustainably.
Secondly, poor leadership and cartels have been blamed for the ailing agricultural sector. Leaders have politicized the agricultural debate; stolen funds meant for the sector and have literally ignored it. This can be seen through the maize and sugar scandals. We have elected leaders who we cannot even trust to head our cattle dips to be our trustees. This can be exemplified through the failed irrigation schemes in the country.
Thirdly, poor farming practices have led to lower yields that cannot sustain the economy. This has been attributed to lack of knowledge by the farmers. The other problem is lack of diversification. For example, the main relief food being handed out is maize & related products. And yet the country can produce wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages among others. The over-reliance on one crop means that the others are neglected.
Fifthly, the lack of proper storage facilities. Food is perishable. And the moment its harvested, it ought to be consumed. However, there comes a time when there is over-supply and demand is low. This means that farmers will either sell at the prevailing market price or leave the rest to get spoilt. The effect of this is deleterious. For the farmers, this means losses. For example, last year when the country was also starving, farmers in Nyandarua were literally pouring away their milk. Also maize was wasting away in silos. On the other hand, the country cannot store food for a dry season.
Lastly, climate change. It has brought about an increase in global temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. Initially, farmers would predict long and short rain seasons. As a result, they were able to plan ahead. However, the situation has changed. Long rains are delaying. There have been abnormal weather patterns where we have experienced unusual heavy rains like last year. At the same time, forests have been encroached at unprecedented rate thus destroying the water catchment areas. There has also been ignorance on the part of the government where meteorological predictions have not been adhered to. Had it been adhered; the government could have planned for this in earnest and we could not be having the situation we are having now.
There are many challenges facing the agricultural sector. But what can be done to ensure that these problems do not persist anymore?
What can be done to offset these challenges?
With every challenge, there is a solution. To avoid the recurrent nature of this problem, many measures can be adopted to deal with this challenge. To begin with, there is the diversification of agriculture. Instead of relying on one source of food and the country can produce a lot, it is important we invest in other crops. Most successful agricultural economies do not rely on one source of food.
The other one is irrigation. According to USAID, only 20% of the agricultural land is suitable for farming. This leaves a huge chunk of land. Given this disparity, irrigation can help in ensuring that crops are produced throughout the year in spite of the season. More so, given that climate change has brought about an unfortunate reality of unpredictable weather patterns, it is important that we heavily invest in irrigation. This can be done by providing technical and financial assistance to communities on a credit basis. And then they pay back the costs through the proceeds of agriculture. The advantage of this is that is ensures that we create more jobs for the youth and at the same time increase food security. Desert countries such as Egypt have attributed their successful agriculture regimes to irrigation. Further, ensuring the protection of water catchment areas by employing incentives such as payment for eco-system services.
Given the surplus that would be yielded from this investment, the next step is to ensure that we invest in proper storage facilities. This is because given the perishable nature of these foods and so as to avoid surplus, investing in proper storage facilities ensures that there is adequate supply of food.
The other option comes in leadership. The various agricultural laws in the country are fashioned in a mode of cooperation between the national and the county governments. For example, the Constitution provides that the national government is to set the agricultural policies and the county government is to implement those policies. Moreover, under the Crops Act and the Agricultural Act, principles of cooperation, distinctness and interdependence have been enunciated herein. Under these laws, the functions of the national government and the county governments have been laid out. For example, under the Crops Act, the County government is in charge of development of crops grown within the county. The national government on the other hand is supposed to among other things facilitate the growth, marketing and distribution of crops. And where either of these governments has conducted its functions, the sector has been successful. For example, in Makueni, the county government build a mango processing plant.
Therefore, for the agricultural sector to be successful, the goodwill of the leaders we elect is paramount. The two levels of government ought to cooperate. Proper leadership is able to identify the challenges each county faces and is able to address the problems that we face. The position of leadership is a public trust in which accountability is chief. Good leaders ensure delivery of promises. They are not corrupt, but are transparent and ensure that their subordinates are accountable. They do not allow their offices to be used as avenues of enrichment thus denying farmers the ability to earn a living. These scandals should be a thing of the past.
In conclusion, apart from climate change and inadequate arable land, most of these problems are self-made and can be rectified. Nonetheless, for the rectification to be successful, there should be good-will from leaders and citizens. No one in the 21st century should be dying of hunger. A country and county with oil reserves, a citizenry pays taxes and water reserves capable of supplying water to the entire country should not be hungry. Remember, a hungry man…is an angry man.