More than 1 million people are in need of food aid in Kenya’s arid areas and yet the country produced a bumper harvest only months ago. Tim Njagi Njeru explains why this is the case.
Distribution remains a persistent challenge when it comes to food access in Kenya. There has been systemic market failure in moving food from surplus regions to deficit regions.
Economic theory predicts that in a functioning market system, incentives through higher price will be offered to attract suppliers from surplus areas.
In Kenya’s case, the expectation is that the price of food in deficit areas will be higher, attracting traders who buy from producers in surplus areas to sell in the deficit areas. This goes on until there is equilibrium – the demand in the deficit areas is met and prices return to equilibrium.
This response must obviously be welcomed. But why is the government always reactive? Back in August last year the drought assessment reports was warning that about food shortages based on the Kenya Meteorological Department’s warning about rain shortfalls.
In addition, reports by the regional early warning system were also available.
All these reports should have prompted measures to improve surveillance in the hot spot areas and action planning should have started by the end of 2018. None of this has happened.
It’s not too late. But the government needs to act quickly to identify citizens’ food needs in areas affected by the drought. It needs to put measures in place to ensure access of food.
Already, the National Cereals and Produce Board has released 450 tons of maize to be distributed in the affected areas. But that might not be enough. The government was work out what’s still needed until the famine stress is over, then plan to make food available in these areas.
There isn’t a shortage of maize: farmers in the maize basket regions have a lot of grain in their stores. In fact, most farmers are still trying to offload their stocks.
Effective delivery systems don’t imply that the government should start sending trucks loaded with food to affected areas. Innovative approaches should be used. For instance, the market is likely to respond faster than the government. The government could kick start a virtuous cycle by providing cash transfers to affected citizens, enabling them to buy food. This in turn would lead to farmers who have maize in their stores to start selling to suppliers attracted to delivering food in famine areas.