Rising food prices occasioned by poor harvests is shining the spotlight on the reality that Kenya is far from fulfilling the promise in the Constitution that every person has the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.

While the present food crisis is largely being blamed on delayed and below-average long rains (March–May), the problem of food insecurity has persisted, with lack of strategic planning and actions playing as big a role as severe climatic conditions and overreliance on rain-fed agriculture.

“There is a need to reform the current fertiliser subsidy program to ensure that it is efficient, transparent and well targeted; invest in irrigation and water management infrastructure to build resilience in the sector; and leverage disruptive technologies to deliver agricultural services, including agro-weather and market information and advisory services” says Ladisy Chengula, World Bank lead agriculture economist.

Nothing can explain the perennial food shortages experienced even in periods following bumper harvests better than poor planning and inaction. Little else can justify the fact that the number of Kenyans facing extreme hunger is expected to increase to 2.5 million by July this year, up from the current 1.1 million, yet Kenya produced a record 44.6 million bags of maize in 2018, according to a Nation Newsplex review of cereal production data going back to 1960. The second-highest harvest of the staple is 42.5 million bags in 2015, and even then the country faced food shortages the following year.

Moreover, the country’s general food security situation has been on a steady decline. Today, more Kenyans are food-insecure and undernourished than a decade ago, reveals a Newsplex review of food security data. The number of hungry (undernourished) Kenyans is growing, reaching almost 12 million in 2017, or one in every four people. The figure was a 15 percentage-point increase from more than 10 million a decade ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

At the same time, the number of severely food-insecure Kenyans facing serious constraints on their ability to obtain safe, nutritious and sufficient food went up from 15 million in 2014 /2016 to more than 17 million in 2016/2017, also a 15 percentage-point increase.

With an undernourishment rate of 24 percent, a slight improvement from 28 percent a decade ago, Kenya was the 24th most undernourished country in the world out of 167 surveyed and 18th out of 45 countries in Africa. But despite the decline in the undernourishment rate, which is, however, higher than Africa’s 20 percent, the prevalence of severely food-insecure Kenyans jumped four percentage-points from 32 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2017, resulting in Kenya’s ranking as the eighth-worst on the indicator globally.

The prevalence of undernourishment is the main hunger indicator used by the FAO and measures the share of the population with a caloric (dietary energy) intake that is insufficient to meet the minimum energy requirements defined as necessary for a given population.

Data from the Finaccess Survey 2019 shows that one in three people went without food often in 2018.

Agricultural technology

The nutrition data shows that harsh or unfavourable climatic conditions can no longer be an excuse for food insecurity as all the four countries with the lowest undernourishment prevalence in Africa are located in the Sahara Desert. Morocco leads with four percent, followed by Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia (five percent each).

Their better performance is due to planning around hot and dry climatic conditions by embracing irrigation and adopting new technology in farming, resulting in better yields, unlike Kenya that heavily relies on rain-fed agriculture even as the approach continues to deliver poor results. For instance, FAO figures show that between 2007 and 2017, Kenya’s wheat yields dropped by more than a third, maize yields declined by 16 percentage-points and rice harvests per acre fell five percentage points.
Tying in position five with six percent is Mauritius, Mali, Ghana and South Africa.

Forty-six countries from all regions of the world except Africa have an undernourishment prevalence of less than 2.5 percent.

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