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Kenya: Food Crisis to Worsen, Agency Warns

An agency monitoring drought has warned of a worsening food crisis in the country should the dry spell being experienced persists.

“If the (short) rains are below average, as currently forecast, or the onset of the season is late, then the situation will become significantly worse, with impacts on health and nutrition, household purchasing power and security,” the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says in its latest bulletin.

The document further says: “The implications of a poor season are particularly worrying for marginal agricultural counties, which are short rains-dependent.”

The authority issued drought alerts for 10 counties and an alarm for one.

The authority said Narok, Kajiado, Taita-Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Kitui, Makueni, Marsabit and Garissa counties were experiencing a decline in food and livestock production as well as water supply. The drought status of Lamu was moved up from alert to alarm.

In its October bulletin, the authority says only one county — Kilifi — was in the alarm drought phase, with the rest in the alert phase.

The authority’s chairperson, Ms Agnes Ndetei, said in parts of Kilifi, Garissa, Lamu, Kwale, Taita-Taveta, Tana River, Makueni, Kajiado, Narok and Marsabit, there are now significant shortages of pasture and water.

“Areas in the south-east and the Coast are the most affected since they received below-average rainfall during the long rains season,” said Ms Ndetei.

According to the agency, the food shortage has been aggravated by conflict in some counties, the most serious case in the previous month being along the border of Isiolo and Garissa, where pastoralists’ convergence is common.

DROUGHT CONTINGENCY PLANS

“NDMA, in collaboration with county governments and other stakeholders, has activated drought contingency plans in seven counties and is supporting all devolved units to coordinate their response and plan for a possible La Niña event,” says the bulletin.

The authority says it has disbursed Sh53 million of drought contingency finance provided by the European Union in seven counties since the beginning of July.

The onset of the dry spell in the North Rift has sparked fears of conflicts in the scramble for scarce resources among pastoralists in the region.

A spot check by the Nation revealed that many water sources in the area had dried up and pastures depleted, prompting pastoralists to move with their livestock to neighbouring areas.

This has been witnessed in Mochongoi Forest, Baringo; and Laikipia Nature Conservancy, where Pokot herders have moved with hundreds of their livestock.

Baringo county commissioner Peter Okwanyo said they were in talks with elders in the region for pasture committees to be constituted to avoid conflicts.

A report released by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group and Early Warning Systems Network in January indicates that families in Samburu, Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Mandera and Wajir faced food shortages and inadequate pasture and water for their animals due to the dry spell.

Thousands of families in parts of Baringo, West Pokot and Turkana counties in the North Rift region are also experiencing food shortages that are likely to be complicated by the drought.

Source: allafrica

Relying on imports to feed the nation

The World Meteorological Organisation has referred to the ongoing El Niño as the strongest experienced in 15 years. Responsible for heavy rains in South America and forest fires in Indonesia, it has resulted in far below-average rainfall, and very high temperatures in Southern Africa adversely affecting agriculture in the region.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network expects ‘stressed’ and ‘crisis’ outcomes between January and March in the broader Southern Africa region: “Poor households in these areas will experience livelihood protection and consumption deficits due to reduced casual labour opportunities, above average food prices, poor pasture and livestock conditions, the late start of season, and poor rainfall performance so far.” 

We interviewed Professor in Food Security Sheryl Hendriks from the University of Pretoria on the possibility of a food shortage in SA, and how South Africans should be preparing for the rising cost of food.

With SA now having to import six million tonnes of maize, will it be enough to quell a potential food shortage?

At this point, we are not sure how much we will need to import. The difficulty is that our exchange rate makes imports exceptionally expensive.

The cost of local production is far lower than the cost of importing – especially when international demand and prices are high, but more so because our exchange rate has weakened so drastically.

Maize meal prices have already increased in the stores. The price of SA’s staple food will increase dramatically when we start importing as the consumer will need to cover the costs of importation. If the drought continues, we will face future shortages, making us reliant on imports in the near-term. 

Such a rise in imports will no doubt drive up the cost of maize – a staple food for most South Africans. How will this increase in cost affect the price of other foods? 

The current crisis affects white maize more than yellow maize. Yellow maize is used for animal feed so the white maize crisis will affect the price of mielie meal and other foods where maize is added – corn flour, baking goods, biscuits, breakfast cereals etc. 

One of SA’s best options would be to turn to consuming yellow maize, as we did in the crisis in the 1980’s when we were faced with a similar crisis. One could only buy yellow maize because sanctions prevented us from importing white maize from other countries. Not many countries produce white maize in surplus except for the US, Mexico, Brazil and China. Although, using yellow maize for human consumption would exacerbate the shortage of supply of animal feed, which would affect the prices of other foods such as meat, chicken and dairy products.

According to World Vision’s Paula Barnard, if we don’t have adequate rain by March / April 2016, this could spell disaster for SA. What does the worst-case scenario look like?
The worst case is white maize will be unaffordable – especially for the poor. Even a small price increase affects poorer consumers. Maize is the staple (and in many cases the only) food consumed by poor households. Apart from taste preferences, there are not many alternatives as sorghum is also in short supply due to the drought. A large proportion of wheat is imported as well and so bread is not an alternative to maize for poorer consumers. Vegetables too are badly affected by the drought and prices of other starches such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are astronomical at the moment. Making yellow maize available to consumers immediately is quite important and necessary. It will provide an alternative to those prepared to switch consumption from white to yellow maize meal! 
Is the South African government prepared for such a disaster? Do we have contingency plans in place?
The current government has not had to deal with a drought or food crisis of this proportion. The severity and scale of this drought is exceptional. Most of the country is affected and so we are not able to support one area by bringing supplies in from another area. We do not have national reserves to deal with a crisis of this proportion. A number of national crises such as electricity shortages have led to redirecting of national reserves to solve other problems. 
What should South Africans – at various income levels – be doing at this stage to prepare for impending food price increases, as well as food shortages? 
Be prepared to make changes to your diet – even if this means switching from white to yellow maize. It is healthier for you anyway as it is packed with vitamins and minerals. Each household needs a contingency plan. While hoarding supplies for the future may not be feasible due to inadequate storage facilities and the perishability of foods, consumers should be either putting money aside for possible emergencies or storing non-perishable foods for times of hardship. For middle-income families, there are a number of health substitutions that can be made to reduce the cost of meals without reducing the nutritional value of meals such as adding lentils, beans and pulses to meat dishes or substituting pulses for meat, as well as eating porridges made of oats and sorghum rather than ready-prepared cereals and increasing the consumption of vegetables. Taking lunch to school and work is another option that saves costs and provides a more healthy meal. 

For lower-income and poor consumers who consume mainly pap, the options are limited. These consumers will most likely need support from relatives or government if the price of maize meal increases substantially. 

For all, avoiding debt is crucial!

Source: bizcommunity


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