News / Africa

Already Struggling With Food Security, Kenya Faces Another Drought

Kenya Wildlife Service warden Vincent Ongwae looks at the carcass of a buffalo that had died due to drought, on the shore of Lake Nakuru in Kenya, Oct 2009 (file photo)
Kenya Wildlife Service warden Vincent Ongwae looks at the carcass of a buffalo that had died due to drought, on the shore of Lake Nakuru in Kenya, Oct 2009 (file photo)


Michael Onyiego

Kenya ranks near the bottom of the world in food security.  While the government works to stave off a coming drought, experts say Kenya must retool its local food markets to prevent future shortfalls.

As World Food Day approaches, Kenya stands at a crossroads in its fight to end hunger.  The east African nation boasts one of the largest economies on the continent, with a highly developed agricultural sector ranked as one of the world's leading exporters of tea, coffee and flowers.

Kenya rated 'high risk'

But despite its potential, Kenya is one of the most food-insecure nations on the planet.  United Kingdom-based risk consultants Maplecroft ranked Kenya 21st among 163 countries in their 2010 Food Security Risk Assessment.  The consultants, who frequently collaborate with the United Nations, rated Kenya as 'high risk," placing it ahead of such countries as Pakistan, at 30; and Iraq, at 59.

Environmental factors play a large role in Kenya's food insecurity.  Much of Kenya's eastern and northern regions are fairly dry, and inhabitants rely on seasonal rains to survive.  In 2008 and 2009, unusually light rains proved disastrous, sending food prices up and triggering massive shortages.

But according to the managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation's Africa Program, Dr. James Nyoro, the problem has as much to do with structural issues in Kenya's economy.  "This is ironical because when you look at the infrastructure, Kenya is doing better than all the others within the region.  But you are talking about a huge population; you are talking about very well advanced horticultural system, very well advanced coffee and tea systems.  So Kenya has utilized most of its good potential to produce high-value exports.  And as a result of that it has traded off producing food."

Growing food gap

The gap between supply and demand has been growing in Kenya since the 1990s, but Kenya's producers have not moved to meet the increased need.  

According to Nyoro, Kenya lacks a modern commodity exchange that can take advantage of its production potential.  Farmers must instead rely on what he calls "extremely unpredictable prices" set by the government to sell staple crops such as corn.

"Kenya has not been able to put in an efficient food marketing system that ensures that if you invest as a small scale-farmer or medium-scale farmer in maize production that at the end of the season you will be able to get a good market and get your returns," said Nyoro.  "The marketing system has not been very well established and it has been kind of monopolized by the National Cereals and Produce Board which is a government body."

Coming drought predicted

Early 2010 turned out to be a season of surplus for Kenyan farmers.  Higher than average rainfall helped speed the recovery from consecutive seasons of drought.

But early reports of a "La Nina" weather system have analysts predicting another season of drought in the coming months.  Nyoro warned that Kenya will have to build up its national grain reserves through imports to prevent famine.

The Kenyan government seems to agree. The Ministry of Agriculture announced on Tuesday it will double the reserves from 360 million kilograms to around 720 million kilograms in anticipation of a shortfall.

Proactive measures

In Northeastern Province, one of the country's driest regions, officials also are working to keep harvests from failing.  According to the Provincial Director of Agriculture, Shikuku Mushieni, farmers are being given tools to make the most of the marginal rains.

"The government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, has supplied a total of 30 tons of assorted drought-tolerant crops and we are distributing it to the farmers throughout the province," said Mushieni.  "Secondly, we have irrigation schemes along the two major rivers, River Tana and River Dawa, where farmers are working in groups and planting various crops.  Therefore, we look forward to a season whereby the little rain that shall be received - the farmers will be able to use it effectively to produce food for the province."

In 2009 the Kenya Food Security Steering Group - made up of officials from Kenya, the United Nations, NGOs and the Famine Early Warning System Network - estimated 3.8 million people were in need of emergency food assistance from September until February.  A recent assessment by the group found that nearly 2 million would need food assistance through December of this year.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs