Photograph — Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Kenya’s battle against famine has lingered for years with no sustainable solution in sight. About 1.3 million people in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) in the country are currently in need of food assistance.

Barely two weeks ago, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned the Kenyan authorities about the impending threat of food insecurity in 2017. Kenya experienced poor rainfall during the April to June 2016 rainy season. Also, the October to December rainy season started late.

FAO, together with Texas A and M University, developed a predictive livestock early warning system which says that there will be a severe lack of forage for livestock in 2017 leading to a worsening drought.

Kenya has suffered an alarming loss from drought in 2016. In some areas in the country, some schools had to shut down due to water shortages. Children would walk more than 10 kilometres in search of water rather than being in class.

“We have visited several schools where head teachers are [having] difficulties running their schools due to [the] dry spell. Many of the children, especially girls, have dropped out because they are forced to either assist their parents [in fetching water or taking care of their homes],” said Hassan Ismail, child programme officer, Womankind Kenya.

The ASAL areas in Kenya have suffered a high rate death of livestock. “I stopped keeping cattle because they cannot withstand harsh climatic conditions,” says Mr Galdibe, a pastoralist. Livestock rearing accounts for over 90 percent of employment within the ASAL regions and 10 million Kenyans collectively.

Carcases of cattle that died during a drought at Odole in the Tana Delta, October 27, 2016. Photo Credit: Alphonce Gari

The huge loss of cattle has made citizens resort to cattle raiding as a source of livelihood. “Conflict in the south and east [of Turkana County] is not traditional cattle rustling. It has become commercialised. There are businesses; men and women waiting to load [the cattle] and take them to market,” says Turkana county deputy governor, Peter Lokoel.

In areas like Marsabit, Kilifi, and Kwale, milk production has gone down by 90 percent. Prolonged drought affecting these areas have changed the eating habits of Kenyans. Several people have had to starve with little or nothing to eat.

Several regions in Africa are facing threats of severe drought, with 39 million people in the continent already hit by the crisis; and it is predicted to peak early next year. South Africa’s recently released third quarter GDP shows that its agricultural sector has suffered a decline for seven consecutive quarters. This is as a result of poor rainfall experienced during the year. Somalia’s experience of the drought has been unbearable with nearly 40 percent of the country in need of assistance. Water is now gold as a drum could go for as high as $120.

In February, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster in rural parts of his country hit by a drought. Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, was warned by the UN about an imminent threat of a famine in the coming year. The international organisation stated that 120,000 Nigerians face the risk of death in 2017.

The northeastern region of the country is already riddled with hunger and starvation due to the massive destruction of farmlands by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. It is estimated that 400,000 children aged under five could suffer severe malnutrition and 75,000 children dying within the coming year.

The Kenyan government has taken a bold step by announcing it would release Sh2.5 billion out of a budgeted sum of Sh5.1 billion to deal with drought till February next year- this week to fight hunger in the country. The FAO has also released $400,000 to spend in Kenya on training, vaccination, animal feed and encouraging people to sell animals before they fall sick.

On Monday, the government signed a finance agreement with the European Union. The European Union is providing a support of Sh11 billion to Kenyan government to help achieve its goal of ending the sufferings from drought by 2022.

Poor intervention by the government in kerbing food insecurity has led to food donations in the past which are unsustainable.  In 2011, Kenya faced one of its worst droughts in the history of the country. This made the government distribute relief food to more than 1.7 million people in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

Kenya’s future state

In the short term, the occurrence of a drought is irreversible. Experts believe that the funds being allocated to kerb the crisis are inadequate to manage the current situation. “Generally, responses to drought or crisis are too little and too late,” said Piers Simpkin, a livestock expert with FAO in Kenya.

The possibility of the aid being utilised for its actual purpose poses a great threat to the ending of the food crisis. The Kenyan government, as a result of corruption, in the past, have frustrated initiatives to help end the suffering from drought. Simpkin says that it can take several months for emergency aid to reach people on the ground.

In the long run, experts have advised the land usage should be more utilised. Kenya boasts of a land mass of 58 million hectares, but slightly more than 5 million hectares are cultivated. Though, only 9 million hectares can support agriculture, a large portion of the arable land has been destroyed through extensive cultivation, overgrazing, harvesting of trees for fuelwood, leading to deforestation. Also, land meant for cultivation are being allocated by the government for housing purposes rather than for agriculture. Kenya lacks a national land use policy and this has allowed for unsustainable land usage. Dr Isaac Mwangi, Chairman of the University of Nairobi’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning expressed his fears saying that “Unless decisive actions to come up with a national land use policy are made, Kenyans can surely expect to be edging closer to crunch time.”

The funds needed for to end the current crises in Kenya and Africa at large stands at an unestimated sum but a really enormous amount. Piers Simpkin commenting on the FAO donation said that “The 400,000 dollars is just a drop in the ocean of requirements, but judicious timing and use of the funds to catalyse and prepare and mobilise should have much bigger impact.” The Kenyan authorities need to act faster in ending this crisis, in order to prevent a genocide threat from occurring like Syria’s current devastating state.  

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