News of a looming food shortage just after the festive season is depressing. Food shortages last year forced the country to import maize, diverting funds from development programmes.
However, some regions did not get the government-subsidised unga.
The new harvest had been expected to ease the shortage but reports from the North Rift grain basket are worrying. There has been a decline in maize and wheat production due to disease outbreaks and erratic weather.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates a 20 per cent drop in maize yields, amounting to some 32 million 90kg bags, down from 37.1 million bags.
A fall armyworm outbreak that wreaked havoc on the farms, the head smut maize disease and drought during the planting season explain the decline.
Maize is, of course, the staple diet of most households. This compounds the situation created by the prolonged drought, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. Besides the government having to continue its food subsidy, other serious measures are needed to reverse the situation.
One is to step up efforts to fight pests and diseases. The second is to boost all-year agriculture through irrigation. The third is to encourage Kenyans to diversify their diet to reduce the reliance on maize. Lack of maize need not be synonymous with a food shortage when other crops, such as potatoes, are readily available.