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Kenya needs to make an urgent food security plan

Sunday February 8 2009


WHAT KENYA NEEDS IS AN urgent food security action plan for the rest of this year. This plan, mot policy, must be inclusive of all players and must be able to make decisions and ensure they are implemented. It must be free of bureaucratic impediments so that it eases up the flow of food to Kenyans.

Two things need to be emphasised. First, we don’t have the luxury of time in formulating a policy. Millions of Kenyans are on the wrong side of the food security fence. At best, they are paying more, and at worst they are starving to death. Many, many more Kenyans will join them.

Secondly, there is no magic wand. We should be brutally honest to Kenyans and say the best we can do is alleviate the terrible food crisis we are in. We should not promise that we can or will solve it next week or next month, or even in the next year.

If the next rains are sufficient and the next North Rift crop is reasonable, then by 2010, at the earliest, there will be a chance of bringing the country back from the precipice of serious food insecurity.

IN THE MEANTIME, WE MUST DO THE following. A working team comprising of key players – private and public, national and international – must be formed to formulate and implement this food security action plan. This team should be as full-time as possible.

One of its first priorities should be to allow millers and bona fide maize traders to scavenge for whatever white maize is in the world market and import it. The world market for white maize is a very very small compared to that of yellow maize.


There is a distinct possibility that the quantities we require might not be accessed and could even result in an upward spike on the world price of white maize. As a result, we must look out of the white maize box.

Yellow maize is available and plentiful and at much lower prices. Kenya is now importing yellow maize for industrial purposes and for animal feed. Why not offer yellow maize as an alternative human food? It used to be said that Kenyans would never eat yellow maize. Would that still be the case today if it was more available and affordable to an increasingly hungry population?

We must also look at all our staple food products. We import the majority of our wheat and rice. They are still subject to import tariffs. The world wheat price has dropped significantly over the last few months. Why not take away all tariffs on staple food products for the rest of this year, and allow more Kenyans to access these foods at a cheaper price?

Remember the urgent need is to increase the flow of staple foods into Kenya and get them to Kenyans at the most affordable price possible. There should be no other priorities or impediments put in the way.

Last, but not least, we must devise an effective and equitable manner to distribute subsidised fertiliser. To leave it in the hands of the National Cereals and Produce Board per se is to ask for a raft of scams.

One idea is to have the distribution led by lead agencies, religious bodies and NGOs on the ground in conjunction with the NCPB. Secondly, subsidised fertiliser must be made available countrywide and not just concentrated on Kenya’s food granary.

FOR EXAMPLE, MANY AREAS WILL get a small but self-sufficient crop if the next rains are adequate. That will bring such areas as Central Province off the food dependency chain. Why not give these areas a production boost with the sudsidised fertiliser?

In conclusion, much of the above runs against the grain of current government actions and policy. That is not a problem. Our leaders must have the courage to admit past mistakes and failures, learn from them, but most important of all, move on to a fresh set of actions to alleviate the crisis befalling us.

Mr Shaw is a Nairobi-based businessman ([email protected])