Kenyans facing food crisis

Published on Monday 14th July 2008

Nairobi: About 1.2 million Kenyans are facing famine and require emergency food assistance, a U.S.- St funded famine early warning system has warned recently.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said that at least 1.16 million Kenyans require emergency assistance due to, among others, an expected below average agricultural production in July and August 2008.

The organization said in its June 2008 food security update that the 1.16 million Kenyans estimated to require emergency assistance include 225,000 displaced people in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas.

"As Kenya's returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) begin to rebuild their livelihoods following post-election displacement, their food security is unlikely to improve significantly in the short to medium term," the report said.

"Marginal agricultural farmers in the southeastern and coastal lowlands require sustained long rains to moderate the impacts of apoor short-rains season."

The network issued alerts to prompt decision-maker action to prevent or mitigate potential or actual food insecurity.

The report said below average agricultural production is expected in July and August 2008 due to an about 25 percent reduction of the cultivated area.

It said the Kenyan government had approved importation of 270,000 metric tones of maize to cover for the anticipated shortfall at the end of July but rising food prices had put nearly 7 million urban poor at risk of starvation.

FEWS NET said continued presence of Pestes des Petit Ruminants (PPR) disease in Turkana, Mandera,and Wajir and Marsabit districts in northern Kenya was further threatening food security in pastoral areas.

It said that while the World Food Program (WFP) has planned for food assistance, interventions addressing water access, conflict, and human and livestock disease are needed.

"Protracted, resource based conflicts have rendered parts of Turkana, Samburu, Marsabit, and Marakwet districts inaccessible to both pastoralists and traders," said the report.

It said costs of food cereals and other commodities in the areas have increased substantially by between 10 and 30 percent since December, and are now 2.5 times higher than prices in most reference markets in urban or agricultural areas.

The organization warned that if food and non-food prices continue to rise, it is likely to distress livestock sales.

The incidence of conflict normally increases during drought periods but subsides soon after the drought period ends. However, over the past two years, conflicts have continued and the impacts have endured for longer.

According to FEWS NET, overall domestic maize supply is likely to be below average from the third quarter onwards, due to constrained 2008 long-rains production in Kenya's "grain basket", coupled with mediocre rains in other growing areas.

The steep rise in the prices of cereals and other food and non-food commodities is adversely impacting household food security, particularly for market-dependent households in deficit and urban areas.

The development came as Agriculture Minister William Ruto gazetted new rules governing the importation of wheat flour, which are set to apply in relation to the quantity as specified under the Mutual Tariff Concessions for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Ruto spelt out the rules in a gazette notice issued last Friday that are likely to bring sanity in the well perforated market.

Under the new rules, auction on rights to import wheat flour under the COMESA tariff concession will be open to all interested persons.

Ruto indicated that the participation in the auction shall however be via catalogue only. Those intending to participate will be required to purchase the catalogue at a cost of 200,000 shillings which will be deposited at the ministry offices in Nairobi, after which a receipt will be issued.