At least 1.4 million people are facing acute hunger in Kenya, double the number reported in 2020, a report by the government and the United Nations has warned.
The assessment carried out by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG), county steering groups and the United Nations states that at least 238,000 people are in need of emergency food distribution across eight counties; Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana river, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana and Isiolo.
The government and the World Food Programme attribute the increase in the number of people at risk of acute starvation to below normal performance of the short rains, thus impacting negatively on the already fragile food security situation in arid and semi-arid areas in Kenya.
The report prepared after the assessment also blames the Covid-19 pandemic, livestock diseases, the invasion of desert locusts and conflicts and insecurity over the increasing number of people in need of food aid.
"Restricted imports have reduced supplies of nutrition commodities for management of acute malnutrition and the stigma associated with Covid-19 has resulted in poor health-seeking behavior, with less people visiting the health facilities for treatment, which has also resulted in reduced growth monitoring and nutrition screening coverage for children under five years of age," states the 2020 Short Rains Season Assessment Report.
The report estimates the impact of invasion by desert locusts to be at least 310 hectares of cropland that amounts to 65 per cent of total cropped area and more than 7,500 hectares of pasture and browse.
"Across the pastoral northwest areas of Turkana, Samburu and Marsabit, the locusts have also destroyed large areas of pasture and browse by feeding on leaves and leaving the trees bare. There were cases of diarrhoea and even death of livestock after ingestion of the locust droppings, which also affected open water sources carried by runoff water, which caused stomach ailments in human beings," says the report.
It also blames human-wildlife conflicts and inter-communal conflicts for the high number of people dependent on food aid, saying that with the dwindling forage and water, resource-based conflict is on the rise.
The production of milk, the report states, has also reduced because of poor pasture conditions and increased trekking distances by the animals.
Turkana, Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, Marsabit and Samburu top the list of counties that are projected to continue facing starvation, with nutrition being critical in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Samburu and Turkana counties, and North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties in Marsabit County and Tiaty in Baringo County.
"Overall, an estimated 541,662 children aged 6-59 months and 98,759 pregnant and lactating women require treatment of acute malnutrition," the report states.
The government and the UN projects that declining rangeland resources will likely keep livestock in the dry season grazing areas up to late April after the onset of the long rains, reducing household milk availability and consumption and reducing livestock sale value.
It also warns of an increase in resource-based conflicts and livestock disease outbreaks in the dry season grazing areas as overcrowding and competition for resources persist, likely causing insecurity, loss of property and disruption of markets and other livelihood activities.
"Household income is expected to be constrained by the below average casual wage labour income-earning opportunities presented by the below average March to May long rains and by the Covid-19-related impacts on income earning opportunities,
"Desert locust breeding is also set to begin and intensify with the start of the rains as the hatching of the locusts and the emergence of crops are both driven by the rains, resulting in a significant threat to crop production," the report warns
Already, Samburu, Laikipia and Baringo counties have started reporting cases of hunger and the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) has placed the counties on high alert.
For the past two months, families -- especially women, children and the elderly -- from the northern parts of the county are trekking for long distances in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.
Wamba, Archers Post, Baragoi, South Horr, Barsaloi, Suyian, Loonjorin, Opiroi and Nachola in Samburu are the most affected areas, with pastoralists reportedly making desperate moves in search of water and pastures. In some areas, desperate families have been waking up as early as 4am to sit on roadsides to beg for water from motorists. Throughout the day, they endure the scorching sun.
NDMA Coordinator in Samburu Alex Leseketet said there has been a water shortage particularly in Samburu East and Samburu North.
"The situation is getting worse. Pastoralists have been hit by water shortages and pastures have been exhausted," Mr Leseketet told the Nation, adding that Samburu East is the most affected.
On Monday, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) said it plans to buy maize worth Sh4 billion from last year's crop to replenish stocks at the National Food Reserve and safeguard the country's grain requirements.
NCPB revealed it was expecting funding from the Treasury to buy maize for the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR).
"We plan to buy maize worth Sh4 billion once we get this money from the government to replenish the Strategic Food Reserve to boost food security in the country. The money has already been budgeted for," NCPB chairman Mutea Iringo said in Nakuru when he visited the board's depot.
The state-owned cereals board, is, however, facing turbulent times over a Sh7.3 billion debt accrued from a defaulted bank loan taken using its assets as security.
Aside from the bank load, the board has a Sh4.1 billion maize subsidy debt and owes Shh1.11 billion to the Department of Devolution, Agriculture Development Corporation, Agriculture Food Authority, and the Murang'a County Government.
Mr Iringo said when he appeared before the National Assembly Agriculture committee that the board has had an unserviced bank loan of Ksh6.38 billion whose interest and penalties accumulated Sh110 million monthly at a rate of 22.5 per cent.
Farmers in parts of the Rift Valley have been asking the government to buy maize from them at a cost of Sh3,000 for a 90-kilo bag, an increase from the Sh2,700 it has been paying farmers since January when the NCPB opened its depots across the country.
"The cost of living is skyrocketing by the day and we just want the government to ensure that we benefit from our hard labour. We need money to buy fertilizers and till our lands for the coming planting season," a farmer, Mr. Timothy Ng'asura, told the Nation in Nakuru.
NCPB Managing Director Joseph Kimote told the Nation that the board has since January, received 200,000 bags of grain, up from 100,000 a fortnight ago.