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.
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.
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.
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!