Bumper harvests being reported in several east African countries will do little to improve long-term food security in countries like Kenya, where almost six million of its 38 million inhabitants receive some form of food aid. This is a result of infrastructural weaknesses, five failed rainy seasons, low production, high prices, conflict in pastoral areas and the continuing disruption caused by post-election violence in early 2008.
Below, specialists address these and other causes of Kenya’s poor food security:
“The issue is not only production; our major problem is also poverty. Even when we have food we have Kenyans who cannot afford it. We need to address food availability and affordability” - Ibrahim Maalim of the Ministry of State for Special Programmes (MoSSP).
“Food prices have remained over 100 percent higher than December average levels in most of the pastoral districts” – Kenya Food Security Outlook (KFSO), January-June 2010, prepared by USAID, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the Kenyan Government and the UN World Food Programme.
“Kenyans who are poor and chronically hungry are virtually everywhere… 35 percent of children younger than five in the country are malnourished, up from 18 percent in the 1990s" - Ruth Onian'go, professor of food science and nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
“Sixty percent of so-called farmers are net buyers of food. They sell after the harvest then buy later” - James Nyoro, managing director, Africa region, Rockefeller Foundation.
“A poor farmer will first feed the family" - John Mutunga, chief executive of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP).
“Potential improvements in food security could be mitigated by characteristic rapid sale of harvested produce at low prices, as households seek to meet debts, pay school fees, purchase inputs for long-rains land preparation and planting” – KFSO.
“The food deficit is due to a lack of political goodwill” - Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.
"We have a challenge in the management of our public affairs [and] the management of our food stocks. Sometimes we are exporting food yet we later need to import. There is a failure to learn from best practices, to invest in knowledge and transform that knowledge into action" - John Omiti, a senior policy analyst with the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA).
“A lack of trust in farmers' organizations has prevented the storage of surplus produce in produce boards” - Johnson Irungu, crops management director, Ministry of Agriculture.
“The food pipeline has had substantial breaks, limiting its capacity to moderate food security in areas that have suffered a succession of at least four poor or failed seasons” – KFSO.
“We do many things wrong so we should not complain about food insecurity" - John Mutunga of KENFAP.
"Food insecurity has been expanding even without considering the post-election violence. The food deficit is increasing at 3 percent on average per year, at the level of population growth" - James Nyoro, Rockefeller Foundation. (Kenya's population is projected to reach 43.6 million in 2015.)
“Population growth is higher than our ability to produce food. We need to address the demographic challenge to balance supply and demand” - John Omiti, KIPPRA.
"When you face a situation where the import price is below the domestic cost of production, you must think very seriously” - John Omiti, KIPPRA.
"They [the farmers] pay us for the food we eat; this is not sustainable. Farming has been stigmatized due to poor returns; people retire to farming" – John Mutunga, KENFAP. (The average age of Kenyan farmers is 60.)
Too much maize
“The emphasis on maize has affected the production and consumption of indigenous drought-tolerant foods” - Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.
“A lack of infrastructure in northern Kenya, where most livestock keepers are, is increasing poverty, vulnerability and the dependence on food aid” - Ibrahim Maalim, MoSSP.
Some regions are enjoying a bumper harvest; a milk glut has also been reported but poor processing capacity is leading to wastage of the milk. “When you tell farmers to produce more you have to imagine there will be excess. What will you do with it?” – Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.
"Even when people say that the weather is changing, and the drought is coming every four years, is there somebody listening to researchers? Now we have a small window of opportunity for the importation of inputs to increase production as we agree that by May-June [food] prices will go up. [But] do we agree that come next year we will reduce these deficits?” - James Nyoro, Rockefeller Foundation.
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