Farming and food security

Drought and Armyworms Deal a Deadly Blow to Kenya’s Farming and Food Security
For a country that is basically agricultural, the last half of 2016 and most of 2017 has been a time of great tribulations for Kenya. For three seasons in a row, the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya have experienced devastating drought that has threatened livelihoods by leading to crop failure and decimation of livestock populations. With hardly any reliable water sources to write about (most people depend solely on rainwater), a drought can only be catastrophic.

The situation in Kenya is dire but so also is the situation in other countries in the Horn of Africa. By mid-2017, the number of Kenyans in need of emergency food relief stood at close to 3 million (about 6% of the population) and the UNICEF projected that these numbers were likely to rise unless there were changes in the weather.

Some of the people most severely affected by the drought are inevitably children, the elderly and women. The destruction of livelihoods (especially for pastoral communities whose livestock has been annihilated) means that children are no longer able to attend school as they accompany their parents in search of food and water elsewhere. Drought has also seen an acute rise in the level diseases such as cholera (in both the arid areas and the slums in some urban areas). Other diseases that call for urgent medical interventions include measles and diarrhea.

While the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya have never been food-sufficient, the situation in these regions has always been salvaged by the production of food crops in other parts of the country. Parts of Central Kenya and the Rift Valley have always been relied on to grow most of the food that the country requires.

What makes the situation dire in 2017 is an invasion of armyworms that has affected the country’s bread baskets. Maize (corn), which is Kenya’s staple food crop, has been ravaged thereby worsening an already bad situation. As in the rest of the Horn, the armyworms in Kenya have proved resistant to most of the pesticides available thereby making for a rather gloomy future outlook.

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According to OXFAM, the number of people in need of emergency food aid is likely to exceed 4 million as the year progresses. Prior to the elections held August 2017, the food situation was so dire that the government was forced to import and provide maize flour at subsidized rates.

Interventions by local and international NGOs have tried to address the situation but the outlook is gloomy especially if the short rains expected between October and December fail to materialize.