Pain as er­ratic rains, army­worm eat deep into food pro­duc­tion

About 3.4m Kenyans are on the brink of star­va­tion due to failed rains, in­va­sion of the army­worm and high food prices

Business Daily (Kenya) - - NEWS INDEPTH - Lynet Igad­wah lig­ad­­tion­

For Eliza Arwan, stay­ing days with­out a meal or wa­ter is noth­ing new.

But things are get­ting worse for the 40-yearold mother of six, who rarely sees her hus­band and re­lies on me­nial jobs at the Segera Ranch to earn Sh150 a day.

The prob­lem is al­ways ei­ther the high cost of food or a se­ri­ous scarcity at Poise, her vil­lage lo­cated some 40 kilo­me­tres from Nanyuki town in Laikipia County.

“We stay hun­gry if I don’t earn. Here a kilo of sugar re­tails at Sh200 and a kilo of maize flour at Sh150,” says Ms Arwan, whose sunken eyes, ashy face and cracked lips tell of her suf­fer­ing.

The drought-parched ground be­neath her feet por­trays a lo­cal­ity that hardly re­ceives rain­fall and when it does, it is barely suf­fi­cient to grow crops and rear live­stock.

Ms Arwan and her fam­ily are among some 3.4 mil­lion Kenyans on the brink of star­va­tion fol­low­ing failed rains, in­va­sion of the fall army­worm and high food prices.

In its lat­est re­port, the Na­tional Drought Man­age­ment Author­ity (NDMA) es­ti­mates that of the 3.4 mil­lion fac­ing star­va­tion, 2.6 mil­lion are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “cri­sis” lev­els while an es­ti­mated 800,000 are in “stressed” lev­els with the like­li­hood of the lat­ter sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rat­ing into a cri­sis sooner rather than later.

Al­ready, 500,000 of the 2.6 mil­lion clus­tered un­der “cri­sis” are in “emer­gency” level which means they are in dire need of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

In the re­port that as­sessed the im­pact of the 2017 March-may long rains in arid and semi-arid (Asal) coun­ties, the agency says the fig­ure rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease on the 2.6 mil­lion iden­ti­fied by the 2016 short-rains sur­vey re­leased in Fe­bru­ary.

In­va­sion of the fall army­worm in mid-jan­uary wreaked havoc in the coun­try’s bread bas­ket, ag­gra­vat­ing a ce­real short­age that has seen prices shoot up. Ce­re­als are Kenya’s sta­ple food.

Un­like the nor­mal army worms, the fall army worms — which mainly at­tack maize — feed day and night, are most ac­tive dur­ing early morn­ing hours and late evening, dam­ag­ing plants in patches.

Food ex­perts have warned East African economies to brace them­selves as the fall army­worm is not go­ing any­where any time soon.

Data from the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture shows more than 250,000 hectares of farm­land have been af­fected in the food bas­ket coun­ties of Uasin Gishu that has lost (8,000 ha), Trans-nzoia (10,000 ha), Bun­goma (31,600 ha), Nandi (7,000 ha) and Nakuru (48,969 ha).

The to­tal acreage of land in­vaded by the worm in Kenya ac­counts for 11 per cent of the to­tal land on which maize is cul­ti­vated in the coun­try.

In 2016, the short rain crop planted in Oc­to­ber failed which re­sulted in a rally of flour prices with the cost of a 2Kg packet hit­ting a record Sh153, com­pelling the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene through a sub­sidy pro­gramme that low­ered it to Sh90.

“The com­bi­na­tion of fall Army­worm in­fes­ta­tions and er­ratic long rains in the high and medium-rain­fall ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in the North Rift, is likely

to re­sult in a 20-30 per cent drop in long rains maize crop pro­duc­tion in Oc­to­ber. This will re­duce sup­ply and keep prices high un­til [next] Jan­uary,” said the NDMA re­port.

Late in Au­gust, the weath­er­man warned that the Oc­to­berde­cem­ber short rains will cease at a crit­i­cal stage when the maize crop will be flow­er­ing, sig­nalling fresh food short­age.

The Kenya Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment (KMD), in its out­look for the Oc­to­ber-novem­ber-de­cem­ber, projects short rains in the North Rift coun­ties in the sec­ond week of Oc­to­ber to the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber.

“The early ces­sa­tion ex­pected in some agri­cul­tural ar­eas is likely to in­ter­fere with crop de­vel­op­ment be­fore ma­tur­ing. Farm­ers are there­fore ad­vised to make good use of the rains to max­imise crop pro­duc­tion,” said Peter Am­benje, the KMD Di­rec­tor.

Grow­ers have ex­pressed con­cern that the stop­page of rains in the mid­dle of De­cem­ber will have a neg­a­tive im­pact on de­vel­op­ment of grains in the short-rain crop, which nor­mally sup­ple­ments har­vests from the main sea­son.

Most pas­toral coun­ties ex­pe­ri­enced a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive poor rain­fall sea­son, while Isi­olo and Tana River ex­pe­ri­enced a third, ac­cord­ing to the NMDA re­port on im­pact of the 2017 March-may long rains in Asals.

The study used the In­te­grated Food Se­cu­rity Phase Clas­si­fi­ca­tion (IPC), a global stan­dard for clas­si­fy­ing the sever­ity of food in­se­cu­rity.

The pop­u­la­tion was clus­tered into four cat­e­gories rang­ing from

We stay hun­gry if I don’t earn. Here a kilo of sugar re­tails at Sh200 and a kilo of maize lour at Sh150.” ELIZA ARWAN | NANYUKI RES­I­DENT

min­i­mal ef­fect, stressed, cri­sis and fi­nally catas­tro­phe/famine.

Ar­eas fall­ing un­der IPC Phase 1 are those where food in­se­cu­rity is min­i­mal, those in IPC Phase 2 have stressed re­sources while those in IPC Phase 3 are at cri­sis level. IPC Phase 4 are ar­eas where the pop­u­la­tion is fac­ing famine and re­quire emer­gency hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.

The coun­ties clas­si­fied in IPC Phase 3 are Turkana, Marsabit, West Pokot, Sam­buru, Isi­olo and Lamu, as well as parts of Man­dera, Wa­jir, Garissa, Baringo, Laikipia, Kil­ifi and Kwale.

House­holds un­der this phase are con­sum­ing one to two meals a day, con­sist­ing mainly of ce­re­als and pulses and fewer of the other food groups less fre­quently.

“In the ab­sence of ad­e­quate cross sec­toral in­ter­ven­tions, more ar­eas and house­holds in these coun­ties are ex­pected to fall into IPC Phase 3 by Oc­to­ber 2017,” warns the re­port.

An es­ti­mated 800,000 Kenyans fall un­der IPC Phase 2 with ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion sit­u­ated in parts of the south-east and coastal mar­ginal agri­cul­tural ar­eas. They are also in ar­eas such as Ka­ji­ado, parts of Baringo and Narok, and parts of Man­dera, Wa­jir, Garissa, Tana River and Marsabit.

It is an­tic­i­pated that more peo­ple in IPC Phase 2 will fall into the cri­sis cat­e­gory be­tween the months of Au­gust and Oc­to­ber.

Kenya’s plight has been com­pounded by the dif­fi­cul­ties in the wider re­gion with maize pro­duc­tion in Tan­za­nia and Uganda be­tween May 2016 and March 2017 fall­ing be­low nor­mal. This led to them shut­ting their bor­ders for ex­ports leav­ing Kenya to find so­lu­tions for its own food cri­sis.

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