The government’s declaration that at least one million people in some 12 counties face starvation is quite alarming. Sadly, it depicts the perennial problem that all administrations since independence have failed to confront and resolve. Famine is a regular occurrence despite several promises and programmes to end it.
This latest crisis comes against the backdrop of major scandals in the agriculture and water sectors. One is the suspected loss of Sh21 billion meant for construction of water dams in Elgeyo-Marakwet and intended to create food security, provide clean water and inspire other economic activities to change lives.
Second is the collapse of the Sh7 billion Galana Kulalu irrigation project in Kilifi and Tana River counties, which was primed as a game changer; to increase food production, supply clean water to households and trigger economic activities to create employment.
These cases demonstrate that the persistent food crisis is not a natural phenomenon. It is a human creation. Essentially, it is a consequence of mismanagement, poor agricultural practices and lack of political goodwill to create food sufficiency. Nothing is as infuriating as theft of cash meant for agriculture to feed citizens and, worse, when no action is taken against the culprits.
Agriculture is practised at the base level. Most farmers are small-scale and engage in farming purely for their own consumption. Productivity is limited, given the application of old and traditional methods. Moreover, farming is rain-based and outputs fall when rains fail.
Paradoxically, large-scale farming is equally beset by numerous challenges, ranging from poor storage to lack of markets. A common problem in the agriculture-rich counties is lack of a market for the produce and consequently the yields go to waste, making farming a hopeless venture.
On paper, the government talks about various strategies and options for feeding the nation. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda includes food security. In reality, however, little is done to actualise these. For example, the government has not explained what it wants to do differently to make food security a reality under the Big Four campaign. Old thinking and procrastination remain the order of the day.
Indeed, it is a shame that after more than a half a century of independence the country cannot feed itself. That many people go to sleep without food; that every so often, a large segment of the society suffer hunger and water shortage and are consequently exposed to the vagaries of malnutrition and bad health.
This state of affairs must end. A country cannot have a situation where millions starve every year and have to survive on relief food and water rations. It is demeaning and unsustainable. We must deal with the question of food production once and for all.