Bumper har­vest in North Rift while 23 coun­ties starve

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read - BY AGATHA NGOTHO

While 23 coun­ties stare at drought, the North Rift recorded a bumper har­vest this sea­son. Agri­cul­ture CS Willy Bett said this year’s har­vest is ex­pected at 34 mil­lion bags from the long rains har­vest. The coun­try also an­tic­i­pates an­other seven mil­lion bags for the short rains har­vest.

This, Bett said, will help bring pro­duc­tion at par with con­sump­tion lev­els, where maize con­sump­tion stands at 3.2 mil­lion bags per month, and 40 mil­lion bags an­nu­ally.

On drought, Kil­ifi county has been cat­e­gorised by the Na­tional Drought Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity in the alert phase, yet the Galana-Ku­lalu ir­ri­ga­tion scheme is in the same county where har­vest­ing is on­go­ing.

So while some parts of the coun­try have a sur­plus of maize and farm­ers are strug­gling to find mar­ket, Kenyans else­where are starv­ing. Be­sides Kil­ifi, other coun­ties hit by drought ac­cord­ing to the au­thor­ity in­clude Garissa, Ka­ji­ado, Kil­ifi, Ki­tui, Kwale, Lamu, Makueni, Marsabit, Meru, Sam­buru, Tana River and Wa­jir.

East­ern Africa Grain Coun­cil CEO Gerald Masilu said it is sad that some farm­ers are stuck with tonnes of grains, while oth­ers are fac­ing hunger.

This is dic­tated by the agroe­co­log­i­cal zones of the dif­fer­ent ar­eas, he said. “We had El Niño rains in the last sea­son, and now we are suf­fer­ing the pro­longed drought sit­u­a­tion that fol­lows, known as La Niña,” Masila said.

He said many of those af­fected in 23 coun­ties, mainly in the arid and semi­arid ar­eas, did not har­vest much this sea­son, and do not have much food or grain avail­able in stor­age, which is now a rare phe­nom­ena.

“You hardly see gra­naries in the ru­ral ar­eas these days, maybe be­cause there is not much to store there, or for other rea­sons, such as in­se­cu­rity. This is the root of the prob­lem,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the grain coun­cil CEO, the fam­i­lies af­fected re­sort to buying the food from the open mar­ket, hence the prices at which the grains will be sold to the con­sumers will be high.

“When the price is too high, then the poor con­sumers will not af­ford, and so they will go hun­gry. On the other hand, the pro­duc­ers of maize in the maize-pro­duc­ing coun­ties are pe­ti­tion­ing the gov­ern­ment to buy their grains at Sh3,000 per bag. While it is a good thing for farm­ers to get a good price for their maize, we also have to think about the con­sumer,” he said.

Masila said when the gov­ern­ment buys maize for the strate­gic grain re­serve at Sh3,000 per 90kg bag, this raises the price level in the mar­ket, since the gov­ern­ment price be­comes like a min­i­mum price.

He ex­plained that the gov­ern­ment may not have the re­sources to buy all the grain and re­dis­tribute it to the mar­ket, in­clud­ing to all the droughtaf­fected ar­eas. This, Masila said, means that busi­ness­peo­ple, or the so called un­scrupu­lous traders, have to do this func­tion of mov­ing grain from pro­duc­tion to con­sump­tion and to buy ei­ther at the price set by gov­ern­ment or higher.

He is how­ever quick to state that the state has so­lu­tions to re­solve the food se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try and the wider East­ern Africa re­gion.

First, by pro­mot­ing ef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion of grains to be pro­duced at the least cost pos­si­ble, and re­duc­ing costs of in­puts as well as im­proved agro­nomic prac­tices.

Sec­ond, by pro­mot­ing suit­able and drought tol­er­ant crops in the arid and semi-arid lands.

The com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in the arid and semi-arid lands need to pro­duce crops best suited for the cli­matic and eco­log­i­cal con­di­tions. Such crops would be short ma­tur­ing crops that can do well with lit­tle rain­fall and with­stand drought. Ex­am­ples are sorghum, mil­let, beans, pulses, soya and such like crops, not maize.

/AGATHA NGOTHO

East­ern Africa Grain Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Gerald Masila

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