4 March 2008

Kenya: Food Reserves Won't Last Long

Nairobi — Available food reserves can only last for the next eight months.

The Government says unless farmers in Rift Valley prepare their farms in time and plant crops for this season, the country was likely to experience serious food shortages.

Agriculture PS, Dr Romano Kiome, says only 15 to 50 per cent of agricultural land had been prepared in the North Rift.

Under normal circumstances, 50 to 80 per cent of the land in these areas would be prepared by this time of the year in readiness for planting.

Besides the post-election chaos, erratic weather and high prices of inputs have complicated the food status.

Kiome says the country has 53 million bags of maize reserves, which are enough to meet the country's needs for the next eight months.

However, Kiome noted that the violence had no major effect on food status in most parts of the country except North and Central Rift areas.

Farmers in Nyanza, Coast, Western and Eastern had harvested and rioters did not target stores or granaries.

The situation was different in the North Rift, considered the country's grain basket, where the rioters also burned down granaries.

Kiome said the region lost between two and three million bags of maize during the violence.

More than 50,000 farming households were displaced. For those stores that survived, pests and diseases are now destroying the grains.

Kiome also raised concerns over the skyrocketing costs of farm inputs that threaten to complicate land preparation and planting for the long rains.

For instance, fuel costs of land preparation have risen from Sh1,200 to Sh2,300 per acre. The price of fertilizer has almost doubled from Sh1,850 to Sh3,400 per 50kg bag with Kakamega and Bungoma recording prices as high as Sh4,000.

He blamed the rising costs of farm inputs on middlemen, who he accused of taking advantage of the situation to exploit farmers, and also due to demand for the scarce products and services. The ministry has consequently put mechanisms in place to make these products and services available to farmers at affordable rates.

Meanwhile, school-going children from villages in Kilifi District where the expanded school-feeding programme has been stopped are seeking transfers to schools where the food aid is still on. This follows the suspension of the food aid by the World Food Programme (WFP).

WFP suspended the programme after a survey it conducted indicated that the affected regions did not need food aid, even as the Government's Arid Lands Resource Management Programme has raised the alarm over food shortage at the Coast.

Kilifi District Education Officer, Mr Ole Keiss, said the ending of the school feeding programme in December could affect the education of 20,203 pupils in the district.

"Most schools that do not get food aid from WFP are now empty while those which continue to get food rations are registering high enrolment due to massive transfers," Keiss said.

The DEO appealed to the WFP to return the programme, saying many pupils had dropped out after failing to secure admission in areas that still benefit from the food aid.

The Kilifi Drought Management officer, Mr Bethuel Wafula, said relief agencies had started distributing food to the most vulnerable groups in the affected villages.

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