11 February 2014

Kenya: Famine Fears Hit Northern Kenya

Photo: Capital FM
Drought in northern part of Kenya.

Nairobi — Kenya is at crossroads on what to do with over 1.4 million people facing starvation in the Northern Kenya region.

The government was by late last week holed up in meetings aimed at mitigating the crisis.

Kenya has already declared the situation a national disaster with appeals to the public to help in alleviating the problem.

The Cabinet last week annouced the approval of some US $23.5 million for the purchase of maize from farmers. The funds, approved during a meeting chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta recently, will enable the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPD) improve the stocks in the strategic grain reserve. Though not sufficient to a go round the famine hit communities, the move was lauded as a timely intervention.

The Cabinet also directed NCPB to promptly pay the farmers upon delivery of the maize.

Most farmers in Kenya have been reluctant to sell their produce directly to government for fear of low prices and delayed payments.

"The NCPB will continue to purchase maize from farmers to boost the available stocks for the strategic grain reserves. Adequate funds have been provided by the National Treasury for this purpose," a statement released after the meeting said.

Maize is a staple food in Kenya, feeding over 90 per cent of the population. The government plans to double annual maize output in the next five years to help curb food deficit. Annual consumption is about 42 million bags. Data from the agriculture ministry indicates that between two and three million bags are imported from neighboring countries, while another 10 million bags are sourced from the international market.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei recently said the country's current production of the staple stands at 32 million bags per annum.

"We are planning to put 500,000 acres of irrigated land under maize production in the next five years," she said.

The Kenyan government last week allayed any hope that the scandal-ridden standard gauge railway project launched in November last year would be shelved to pave way for investigation into its tendering procedures.

A section of parliament, donor agencies and the civil society are claiming that the multibillion project is mired in an intricate corruption mesh that if unchecked could cost the kenyan taxpayer billions of shillings.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at a State of the Nation address last week said there will be no turning back on the construction of the $3.8 billion standard gauge railway. Kenyatta who was flanked by his entire cabinet at state house nairobi said he would not allow the commercial interests of a few businessmen to derail the project.

He said he personally visited China last July and pleaded with the government to assist Kenya financially and technically to build the Mombasa to Malaba railway.

According to the president, those punching holes in the tendering process of the railway project are working at the behest of multinational cartels that did not win the tender to construct one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region.

"The standard gauge railway project must and will go ahead for us to achieve our development agenda," he said. He termed it as the single biggest investment in East Africa in the last 50 years.

The president maintained that due process was followed in awarding the tender to China Roads and Bridges Company.

"What we know is that we have followed all laws of our country, we have followed all laws of China," the President stated.

He said the project will reduce freight transportation charges from the present $0.20 per tonne-kilometre to about $0.083. It will reduce journey times from 30 hours to 8 hours.

Exim Bank of China is providing a commercial loan of US$1.6 billion and a concessional loan of $1.63 billion, totalling $3.23 billion dollars, for Phase I that will run from Mombasa to Nairobi. He said the Kenyan government will purchase the land where the railway will pass.

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InFocus

Over 60 000 Face Starvation in Kenya

Drought in northern part of Kenya.

Erratic and insufficient rainfall, as well as a poor maize harvest, has left a large number of Kenyans facing drought and food shortages. Read more »