21 March 2019

Kenya: Famine Lays Bare Rot in the Nation and Counties

editorial

The food crisis that has gripped several parts of the country requires quick intervention.

Importantly, it should not be politicised or trivialised. Facts on the ground indicate that more than one million people face starvation following the prolonged drought.

No less than 13 counties, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, are affected. This is no light a matter.

Although there have been reports of deaths arising out of hunger, the government has categorically repudiated those assertions.

Deputy President William Ruto has repeatedly dismissed those as fake reports, and, apparently, chiefs who may have proffered the information are being questioned.

DAMS SCANDAL

But the substantive point of discussion is that there are so many hungers. And this comes against a backdrop of disturbing developments.

The most ominous is the loss of huge sums of money meant for dams in some of the very counties facing starvation.

Investigations are under way over suspected loss of Sh21 billion meant for construction of two dams in Elgeyo-Marakwet, one of the counties hard hit by the drought.

The government set out to build 57 dams; none has been done. Worse, major agricultural projects rolled out to enhance food production, such as Galana Kulalu, in the Coast, have stalled.

WASTED HARVESTS

Second is the paradox of food distribution and marketing. Whereas millions of people are starving, food is going to waste in other parts of the country.

Precisely, farmers in the grain basket counties of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia are grappling with marketing their produce, risking huge losses because the National Cereals and Produce Board is unable to take up their harvests.

The board itself is an absurdity. It receives funds from the National Treasury to buy produce from farmers, but is unable to do so.

Cash meant for farmers is misdirected to influential individuals, who circumvent the system and secure lucrative contracts to supply the grains. The whole system is perverted.

RELIEF FOOD

Thirdly, the food crisis demonstrates that county governments have failed to deliver.

Agriculture is as much a responsibility of the national government as it is of the counties.

Despite the huge sums of cash pumped into the devolved units, there is little to show for it in terms of boosting food production.

It is not lost on us that some of the hard-hit counties are the beneficiaries of equalisation funds, which is a top-up to their annual allocations intended to cushion them given the unique challenges they face.

The government must confront this matter squarely and leaders avoid politicising it. The immediate task is to provide relief food to the famished.

But the imperative is to find a long-lasting solution to the perennial pain of hunger, malnutrition and deaths.

Kenya

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