Starving amidst plenty

The case has always been that Kenya is an agricultural country. Agriculture, we have been told time and again, is the backbone of the economy. Indeed, a vast majority of the country’s land is fertile and produces enough food to sustain the population of over 40m.

It is, therefore, an unanticipated reality to hear of people dying in Turkana because of hunger and many others starving in other parts of the country. What is disheartening even more and more is the fact that it happens every other year.

There will be drought every year, people will die and the government will deny any such deaths. The media will rush to the drought-stricken regions and flood us with heartbreaking pictures of the extremely malnourished.

According to official estimates, over 10 million Kenyans don’t have sustainable food, while maize, a stable food for many Kenyan households is in short supply. Yet, shockingly again, it has been estimated that close to 10 million bags of maize is destroyed annually by armyworms while millions of other bags are held by farmers due to government withholding on the money meant for purchase of maize. 

According to a study done by the USAID, acute and chronic food insecurity is highest among households in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), which cover 80% of the country’s land area but are home to only 25% of the population. Poverty, low education levels, lack of economic development, and limited access to basic social services are characteristic of most parts of the ASALs.

The Red Cross director and other Samaritans will call for national donation. Kenyans will once again go into their pockets and send money and food to the starving. Government officials will lead the delivery of the donations. Politicians will be seen in news cashing in on the tragedy with empty promises. Deaths will occur and lives will be lost that could simply have been saved if government was committed to improving food security, or even merely prepared to respond in earnest to the situation.

The questions Kenyans should ask is what is really happening to the country’s food and why are people dying every year from starvation. Why hasn’t any government been able to handle this situation effectively and stop the recurrence? What is happening to the funds set aside to handle such situations?

We should be aware that most of our agricultural products come from small-scale farmers and they should be supported. The government should find ways to help them boost productivity. Rather than import, government should give farmers better prices for their produce. This will go a long way to ensure national food security but will also boost the economy of the food producing regions and by and large, the national economy.

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