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Think outside the box for ways to reduce food aid dependency

Tuesday September 17 2019

HUNGER

Residents of Kakwanyang in Turkana County queue to get relief food on March 27, 2019, as hunger bites. PHOTO | PETER WARUTUMO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ROBERT SHAW
By ROBERT SHAW
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Much of Kenya is suffering from the negative vagaries of the weather. Extended dry weather and, in many areas full-blown drought, are ravaging vast parts of the country in varying degrees.

Around 80 per cent of the country’s land surface is arid or semi-arid and a quarter of the population lives there. It is, therefore, inevitable that so many people in those areas are at the mercy of these oppressive weather conditions.

OBSTACLES

The last major rains were largely below average and clearly inadequate. Prices have risen for those with access to food and money to pay for them. But for many without those options, the only route is increasing dependency on food aid.

The number of people who are dependent on food aid has jumped from 1.6 million in May to around 2.6 million and is projected to increase to at least 3.5 million over the next few months.

Climate change has exacerbated the weather-related shocks by, often or not, making them lengthier and more extreme. In turn, those shocks increase vulnerability to disease and pests in the farms.

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It is not just a question of the vagaries of weather. The pressure on the land has intensified massively. In 30 years, Kenya’s population has trebled and is projected to double in the next two decades, arid and semi-arid areas included.

Therefore, the pressure on those weather-ravaged resources by the 25 per cent of the population who are pastoralists intensifies by the day, more so during times like these. So considering the mounting obstacles pitted against these communities with their own population pressures, what is the way forward?

Food aid, especially in times like we are in, are always likely to be a backstop. The challenge is to reduce it or at least stop dependence on it from increasing.

STRATEGY

A multi-pronged strategy operated by the national and county governments in tandem is the way to go. It is equivalent to an emergency operation but, in addition to the food aid one, must be conducted with the maximum of synergy.

First and foremost, it requires much more efficient and transparent management of money and resources than at current one by both the national and county governments.

This is a very important point, bearing in mind some of the scams that have been hatched and even carried out under the guise of devolution and some of the exorbitant costs that they have involved. The dams scandals come to mind.

As emphasised before, this is not a question of more money being allocated. The efficient and transparent collection of that money and the more prudent use of it, as well as the money received from the national government, are fundamental prerequisites.

This may seem relatively banal and obvious stuff but it is fundamental to success. The efficacy of policy implementation is like the fuel that drives such an exercise along.

Next, the money allocated to education and health provision must be geared towards getting actual goods and services to as many people as possible. Investing in your human capital is key to applying other policy instruments more effectively.

TECHNOLOGIES

If in place, the various cogs and wheels of policy implementation will operate more efficiently and smoothly.

On the ground, pastoralists must work towards diversifying their herd species to include more camels and donkeys and changing what those animals eat so that the overall mix is more drought-resistant.

Another prong is for clans and communities to club together in the investment of water tankers and other activities, such as the selling of livestock.

The same method should be used to improve pastoralism methods and diversify into agro-pastoralism and dry land agriculture, together with more sustainable land use methods.

Where applicable, small-scale agriculture along Tana River can be coupled with an increased uptake of new technologies and, of course, more suitable seed and plant varieties.

There is no silver bullet nor magic wand to reducing hunger, deprivation and reliance on food aid. It is a question of going through the whole working operation and making it more productive and implementing a number of policy initiatives to at least reduce that dependency and at best diversify livelihoods.

The latter has a good chance of reducing overall dependency.

Mr Shaw is an economic and public policy analyst. [email protected]

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