Kenya to continue grappling with acute food shortage

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By Wangari Ndirangu. October 6, 2017. Kenya News Agency.

Farmer in withered maize field in the the Uasin Gishu County.

Withered Maize Crop in Uasin Gishu County. Photo credit: Business Daily Africa.

The government needs to stock grains of an equivalence of a 3 month supplies at the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) to guard the country against high grain prices in times of shortage.

Tegemeo Institute Director, Dr. Milton Ayieko, said the country is still staring at an acute shortage of food up to April next year, a situation likely to prompt the State to resort to a subsided programme similar to the one in force currently.

Speaking on Friday during the release of a report done by the Tegemeo Institute that assessed cost of grain and implications for food security in Nairobi, Ayieko said SFR was supposed to have stocks that could last the country for at least three more months when there was severe shortage of grain in the country.

“Currently, National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores are almost empty as imported maize is being quickly taken up by the miller to process unga of Sh90 under the Sh6 billion subsidy programme. The stores should not be as empty as they are now,” he said.

The Director further said the country would still face a similar situation like the one occasioned in the months of April and May, where prices of 2kg maize flour rose sharply to between Sh.140 and Sh.150 respectively.

Ayieko said going forward the food value chain players need to manage high production cost and other factors leading to perennial food shortage every year in the country.

Researchers with the Tegemeo Institute said the situation signals another round of high prices of dry maize and exposing Kenya to expensive imports to feed the growing population.

Timothy Njagi, a senior researcher with the Tegemeo Institute warned that the maize production in 2017 will record a decrease of 20 percent compared to 2016, according to findings that focused on production of maize and rice and the food situation prospects for 2017/2018.

“As at the end of March 2018, the country will have stocks between 3.2 million and 4.1 million bags depending on the prevailing factors while the country’s maize production this year is expected to drop to 32 million bags from estimated output of between 37 million and 39 million bags respectively.

Njagi attributed the situation to unpredictable long rains in 2017, infestation of over 800,000 hectares by fall army worms, maize head smut and inconsistent supply of subsidized fertilizer to the expected food insecurity situation.

Kenya Meteorological Department has predicted good weather forecast for the short rains starting in the next two weeks to the third week of December.

However, this according to Njagi has led to increased fears of increase in post-harvest losses in the grain basket regions, adding that once the short rains started, drying of maize would take long and handling of the same would have challenges due to wetness.

He confirmed that the cost of maize production for a 90kg bag was expected to remain high this year reaching between Sh.1, 500 to Sh.2, 000 for small for small-scale farmers and for large-scale farmers respectively.

Njagi noted that despite the government fast tracking an ambitious Sh.20 billion fertilizer subsidy program, productivity of maize per acre has decreased drastically over the years.

“Declining soil fertility, planting of low quality seeds and poor distribution of rainfall has interrupted the maize potential production rate per acre over the years. Giving fertilizer to farmers is not increasing production so we need to think of another way to invest and see the gains,” Njagi said.

Tegemeo Institute research fellow, Kevin Onyango, said there would be a production shortfall of four months and the government has to move with speed to make imports on time for consistent supply to avert high prices.

Onyango said although harvesting from the main crop is going on in North Rift where 29 million bags of maize is expected to be realized, output from 2017/2017 short rains season will reach only 2.5 million bags of white maize.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries estimates post-harvest loses to the tune of between 10 percent and 12 percent every year, due to poor storage facilities as well as early harvesting.