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Agriculture

 

Looming Hunger Needs Urgent Deliberations

Recently, the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon raised concern over the average 40% rise in food prices globally within a span of nine months. This comes in the wake of a warning about food shortage in East Africa by science experts from East Africa in a regional seminar held at Mwanza in March, 2008.

Past photo of starved children in Turkana
Kenyans are at risk of starvation if the government does not move fast to check on the rising food prices and impending food shortage due to the post election violence. The violence saw farmers in the Rift Valley pushed to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and 3.5 million bags of  their maize harvest reduced to ashes. The violence also saw the road infrastructure in the region described as Kenya’s food basket damaged. The Rift Valley produces 27 million bags of maize out of the 34 million harvested in the country annually

The current delay in the formation of the cabinet only worsens the situation, as it delays the farmers’ decision to start planting as they are not certain of the fate that awaits them. Short term and long term measures have to be immediately developed by the ministry of agriculture. The short term measures can involve, immediate resettlement of the internally displaced people, restoration of the damaged infrastructure, and subsidizing fertilizer prices and urging farmers to grow crop varieties that produce more yield within a shorter period.

By subsidizing the fertilizer prices, the government will have saved itself from further expenses that will be experienced in feeding the people should the situation not be arrested. The government loses about KShs 85 billion in graft annually according to Mr. Mumo Matemu, the Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner in charge of support service department. This figure is adequate to subsidize the costs of fertilizer, or improve the infrastructure as it can fund the construction of a 1,000 km tarmac road, eventually strengthening food security.

A variety of crops that require less land and water such as potatoes can supplement the cereals and cushion citizens from the high cereal prices. It is estimated that in tropical regions, within 50-90 days, farmers can produce about 20-25 tonnes of potatoes per hectare as compared to 10 tonnes of cereals within the same area and after a longer period.

Crops under a green house
Introduction of green house farming can be one of the long term issues to address the degrading environmental factor. Green house farming has the advantage of countering harsh environmental conditions and crop diseases. In the horticultural sector, it has done so well making the sector to be the largest foreign exchange earner, having overtaken the tourism industry.  The Biosafety regulation should expeditiously be in place to aid in developing of genetically engineered foods that are in line with the Cartagena protocol. The GMOs can urgently put our food basket back in order. Before it is too late, we need to act fast.

 

 



By Wilson Balongo
Nairobi based Researcher


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