Among the government’s development agenda, as stipulated in the ‘Big Four’, Food Security stands tall. In its stipulated road map to development, the government aims to produce 2.76 million bags of maize, rice and feeds in 52,000 acres of land by the end of 2018. Other plans include putting 70,000 acres of land under public-private partnership for selected crops, cotton, aquaculture and feeds production. There are plans to start over 1,000 SMEs to engage in food production and to provide credit services to more than 20,000 individual farmers. Plans have also been laid for the Strategic Food Reserve to have 500,000 bags by the end of 2018.
However, with all this big plans being put in place, the food situation has hit the country again. The effects of the prolonged drought have escalated the problem of food insecurity in Kenya. The Kenya Red Cross recently made a food appeal after reports indicated that over 1.3 million people in the Arid and Semi-arid Land (ASAL) counties are facing starvation. The Kenya Red Cross seeks Ksh. 1.044 billion to fund its drought response and recovery program in Kenya in 2018. The Kenya Red Cross reports that through its initiative, over 1.2 million drought stricken people have been assisted through various interventions such as direct cash transfers, health and nutrition outreaches, rehabilitation of communal watering points and offtake of animals.
It is important to note that similar appeals by Kenya Red Cross were made in 2011, 2016, and 2017.
The question that lingers is, “For how long will this keep recurring?”
Isn’t the country well resource-endowed to produce enough to feed its people? The story of the food situation in Kenya can better be understood by the following data and analysis.
In Kenya, food security is almost synonymous with the availability of maize. Maize, in its different forms is the main staple food in the country and food security is most households is measured in terms of access and availability of this “precious commodity”.
i. Maize Production v. Consumption
As indicated in the graph below, Kenya has never produced enough maize to meet its demand in the last 7 years. The closest the country’s production of maize came to meeting the consumption was in 2012 while 2017 had both the lowest production levels of maize and the highest consumption levels.
ii. Maize Production and Area Harvested
It can be observed that the area under production of maize increased in 2012. This was followed by a sharp decline in the area where maize was harvested between 2012 to 2015 from where it stabilized. It is interesting to note that the production trends did not mirror the trend in area harvested. In 2015, despite a reduction in area harvested, the production levels increased. This implies that the productivity in terms of yield from the country grain producers was enhanced. Sadly, the trend was not lasting as production per unit area decreases in the subsequent years.
iii. Maize Availability v. Consumption
It can be observed that the country falls back to imports to supplement the deficit in maize availability in the country. The two periods with sharp increase in the amount of maize imports were between 2013–2014 and 2016–2017. Interestingly these periods were the electioneering periods.
It is clear that nothing much has changed in terms of increase the productivity of rice in Kenya. Despite a sharp increase in the area harvested from 2014, the production remains fairly constant. This points out to either ineffective production practices, bad climate, or use of poor seeds. The consumption for rice has been on steady rise from 2014. This has in turn caused increase in imports for the commodity.
The production of wheat in the country is less than half the demand for the commodity in the country. The country has had to rely on the imports to cater for the deficit in availability of wheat. The consumption of the wheat has been on a steady rise from 2014. The production levels have not adjusted accordingly to respond to the increasing demand. In 2014, there was a reduction in area of wheat harvested by about 10% which saw production decrease by almost 11%.
Comparative Analysis of Maize, Rice, and Wheat
The production capacity for maize has been on the decline with 2017 having the least production in the last seven years. 2014 was clearly a bad year for agricultural production as there was a noted decrease in production for the three commodities. Despite the government’s investment in irrigation projects such as Galana/Kulalu irrigation scheme, not much impact has been felt in terms of production capacity.
The trends in the consumption for rice and wheat has been on the rise. It’s worth noting that between 2015 and 2016, the consumption of maize reduced while that on wheat and rice rose significantly. During this period, there was a significant drop in the production of maize in the country. However, among the three products, maize still remains the most favored commodity by the Kenyan people.
It is clear that the country is very dependent on imports in meeting the deficit between the local production of maize, rice, and wheat and the consumption. In 2017, all the three grains recorded an all time high record of imports. This might be as a result of the electioneering period and severe drought that hit many parts of the country.
d. Area Harvested
It can be noted that the area harvested for wheat and rice have had an increase between 2011 and 2017. Fore maize, there has been a significant reduction in the area harvested. This is a worrying trend considering the high appetite of Kenyans for maize and its byproducts. Has maize production stopped being attractive to farmers? Has the infestation by armyworms and maize lethal necrosis (MLN) discouraged our farmers from the once lucrative crop? Have the effects of climate change and the unreliable rainfall pattern made the farmers shift from maize production?
People in Kenya relate food security to availability and accessibility of maize and its byproducts. It’s no wonder revolutions such as Unga revolution arise whenever the menace of drought hits the country. Other products that are common in most households in Kenya are rice and wheat but these have not been given much attention. The production levels as highlighted in the discussion above indicate that not much has been done to improve the productivity of these commodities which could serve as a substitute to maize. This would certainly help ease the pressure on maize that has seen its prices hike to a point of requiring government intervention through subsidizing the prices of the commodity.