Food Security in Kenya


The agricultural sector in Kenya is the mainstay of the Kenya’s economy. The sector directly contributes 24% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 27% of GDP indirectly through linkages with manufacturing, distribution and other service related sectors. Approximately 45% of Government revenue is derived from agriculture and the sector contributes over 75% of industrial raw materials and more than 50% of the export earnings. The sector is the largest employer in the economy, accounting for 60 per cent of the total employment. Over 80% of the population, especially living in rural areas, derive their livelihoods mainly from agricultural related activities. Due to these reasons the Government of Kenya (GoK) has continued to give agriculture a high priority as an important tool for promoting national development.

In 2008, the GoK launched Kenya Vision 2030 as the new long-term development blueprint for the country whose focus is to create a “Globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030”. The Vision also aims at transforming Kenya into “a newly industrializing, middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment”. The Vision is anchored on the economic, social, and political pillars and will be supported on the foundations of macroeconomic stability; continuity in governance reforms; enhanced equity and wealth creation opportunities for the poor; infrastructure; energy; science, technology and innovation; land reform; human resources development; security; and public sector reforms.

Given the central role the agricultural sector plays in the economy, the Government is in the process of finalizing the development of the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS). The overall aim of this strategy is to strategically make the agricultural sector a key driver for achieving the 10 per cent annual economic growth rate expected under the economic pillar of the Vision 2030. Through the ASDS, the Government aims at transforming the agricultural sector into a profitable economic activity capable of attracting private investment and providing gainful employment for the people.

Food Security in Kenya

The achievement of national food security is to be a key objective of the agricultural sector. Food security in this case is defined as “ a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (Kenya Food Security Steering Group, 2008). In the recent years, and especially starting from 2008, the country has been facing severe food insecurity problems. These are depicted by a high proportion of the population having no access to food in the right amounts and quality. Official estimates indicate over 10 million people are food insecure with majority of them living on food relief. Households are also incurring huge food bills due to the high food prices. Maize being staple food due to the food preferences is in short supply and most households have limited choices of other food stuffs.

The current food insecurity problems are attributed to several factors, including the frequent droughts in most parts of the country, high costs of domestic food production due to high costs of inputs especially fertilizer, displacement of a large number of farmers in the high potential agricultural areas following the post-election violence which occurred in early 2008, high global food prices and low purchasing power for large proportion of the population due to high level of poverty.

Policy responses to the recent food crisis in Kenya

As with other countries, the Government of Kenya responded to the food crises through three major policy intervention: Supply, prices and income related policies.

Food security in Kenya – Supply related policies

  1. Subsidy on farm inputs, especially fertilizers, through involvement of the Government – National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in importing and distributing the inputs.
  2. Improvement of research and extension services and improving their linkages.
  3. Provision of rural credit for farming (e.g. the Kilimo Biashara Initititive)
  4. Improvement in rural infrastructure, especially road network
  5. Development rural agricultural markets and agri-business skills
  6. Improvement of the management and use of natural resources, especially water for irrigation
  7. Allowing for imports of tax free maize and ban on exports
  8. Providing farmers with planting materials and seeds, especially of the so called ‘orphan crops- drought tolerant’ which can be grown in the arid and semi-arid areas.
  9. Encouraging diversification of crops planted
  10. Encouraging the citizens to diversify their eating habits to other foods and avoid over-reliance on maize.
  11. Improving the conditions under which food relief organizations operate so as food relief can reach many needy people.
  12. Private sector initiate to mobilize citizens to contribute to the food relief kitty.

Food security in Kenya – Price related policies

  1. Involvement of the NCPB in the purchase of maize form farmers at prices higher than market prices to provide incentive to producers.
  2. Providing subsidy to maize meal millers to bring down the consumer retail prices of the maize meal (price subsidy to the consumers)
  3. Raising the levels of the strategic food reserves to about 8 million bags (90kg) held by the NCPB in order to stabilize the maize prices
  4. Providing a fund to purchase livestock from the drought stricken areas
  5. Allowing private sector to import maize at tax free.

Food security in Kenya – Income related policies

  1. Government’s enhanced efforts to contribute the costs of social amenities e.g.through the free education programme and reduced costs of health at public health facilities. This enables the population especially the poor to have a little more disposal income to spend on food.
  2. The Government transfer funds for development to the grassroots, especially the Constituency Development Fund –CDF and Local Authorities Transfer Fund – LATF, helps the local communities meet their development need while creating employment at the local develop for those people who can provide specialized skills and labor.
  3. Assisting in establishing producer and marketing associations (common interest groups) for farmers to enable them exploit the economies skill through collective action.

Under the Vision 2030, the Government has identified the following seven flagship projects for implementation during the next 5 years:

  1. Agricultural policy reforms
  2. Three-tiered fertilizer cost reduction
  3. Branding Kenya farm produce
  4. Establishment of livestock disease free zones and processing facilities
  5. Creation of publicly accessible land registries
  6. Development of agricultural land use master plan
  7. Development of irrigation schemes.

Causes of Food Insecurity in Kenya

The policy causes of food insecurity in Kenya

Although the government has had a specific food policy only since 1981, before then it was hoped that the goal of food self sufficiency would be met through the pursuance of broader policies on agriculture as it was assumed that agricultural growth would directly translate into food self sufficiency at the national and household levels. Kenya’s food policy since independence has therefore been centred on improving domestic supply of basic foodstuffs, mainly grain crops.

The goal of food self-sufficiency was largely attained in the early years of independence until the late seventies after which massive food shortages set in. Since then the goal of food self-sufficiency and food security has not been attained despite significant policy pronouncements to reform the sector. A number of factors are mentioned in the literature that leads to food insecurity in the country. Among them are policy failures in areas of agricultural pricing, marketing of both inputs and output, distribution and extension that have introduced inefficiencies and lowered agricultural production and the ability to cope with drought conditions (Nyangito 1999).  Further, a poor implementation record by the government has lowered the incentives to produce by farmers.

National policy documents such as Sessional Paper number 1 of 1986 on Economic Management for Renewed Growth and Sessional Paper number 2 of 1994 on Food Policy emphasized self-sufficiency in maize, beans, rice, vegetables, milk, beef and meat products with little emphasize on traditional crops such as millets and cassava. Market liberalization policy led to increased textiles in the country affecting cotton farmers’ market and therefore reducing their level of income. Lack of support policy to private traders has limited their engagement in trade and therefore, and therefore they have failed to distribute food from surplus to deficit areas. The general decline in agricultural production has led to reduced food availability and decreased income which makes the country more vulnerable to food insecurity (Nyangito 1999).

The performance of the maize sub sector is key to the achievement of food security in the country as maize is a key staple in the country. Nyangito (1997) outlines some of the key policy constraints that have hampered the sector and hence reduced the domestic production of maize. These are mainly three in nature: research and extension, input pricing and marketing and maize pricing and marketing.  Research has failed to produce high yielding varieties for the medium potential areas, which are the largest maize producing areas in the country. The Kenya seed company has an unfair monopoly over KARI output therefore reducing the distribution of high yielding varieties, there is no impartial institution to inspect production and marketing of maize and as such limits the private sectors’ engagement /investment in maize breeding. Under extension: there are recognized weaknesses in extension approaches, which have limited the use of improved maize technologies by farmers. Under input pricing and marketing there are poor information flows to farmers on appropriateness and levels of use of improved inputs. Following liberalization high cost of inputs have made then inaccessible to farmers. Weaknesses in maize pricing and marketing have led to unstable domestic prices, which have lowered production and access of consumers to maize. Further there has been a lack of support to private sector to develop and improve efficiency in maize trade. Limited private–public sector partnership has also hampered the achievement of food security.

FAO/GIEWS, 1999 reported that the 1999 main season maize crop had been affected by the scarcity and increasingly expensive agricultural inputs. Increase in agricultural input prices in general increased after implementation of market liberalization policies. FEWS, 1995 mentions economic reforms as a factor contributing to the increased number of people considered to be moderately to highly food insecurity vulnerable.

Although market liberalization policies had an objective of increasing the general productivity and efficiency in production, they have contributed to a decline in food production in Kenya (Mbithi, 2000).  This is because the policies were mainly price oriented (output and input pricing), but did not consider non price factors such as institutional framework, infrastructure and the development of private sector. Increase in real maize producer prices during the market liberalization policies did not offer enough incentives to maize farmers to produce more because price is not the only factor attaining maize profitability.

The Kenya’s trade policy has also tended to increase food insecurity. Originally based on the need to safeguard local agriculture and domestic manufacturing sector against adverse competition, the trade regime tended to unfairly tax agricultural exports thus denying the country of vital foreign exchange with which it could access food imports, Nyangito (1999). Even after the trade regime was liberalized cheap food imports have suppressed domestic food prices and therefore food production (Nyangito 1999). Competing uses for land have tended to reduce the land area dedicated to food farming. The government has under invested in infrastructure that could be vital to encouraging cross border trade in food commodities, which can reduce food insecurity( Ackello-Ogutu et al (1997)). Until recently the high tariff regime on intra-regional trade reduced the potential of regional trade to help in alleviating food insecurity through food imports from the region (Weeks et al. 1998; Mwale 1997).

The ban of fresh fish exports from East African countries imposed by the EU in December 1997 exacerbated the effects of Hyacinth weed effects on lake Victoria’s fishing households. The ban on the exports resulted to a decline in fish prices ranging from 30% in major urban areas to 60% inn additional fishing areas (FEWS, 1997). This affected the purchasing power of fishing households during the 1998.

Political causes to food insecurity in Kenya

Political conflicts especially in food producing areas have also tended to reduce farming activity even long after the conflict has been resolved. Insecurity in the neighbouring countries that play a key role in food supplies during drought periods in Kenya.

Food production in tribal clashes hit areas in 1992-1993 including Nakuru, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu and Narok districts with high agricultural potential declined and this made food security vulnerability to increase in the areas which were not considered to be chronically vulnerable (FEWS 1995). Northern and Eastern areas of Kenya were characterized by local conflicts and this restricted the movement of vulnerable communities towards better grazing and water.

Environmental causes of food insecurity

The main environmental factor behind food insecurity in the country is deficient rainfall. Many studies of food insecurity divide the country according to their potential for agriculture, which is usually determined by the amount of rainfall they receive. The vulnerability of a household or area to food insecurity is determined not only by the amount of rainfall a place receives but also the seasonality of the rainfall. For example the study by Kigutha (1995) shows that even in high potential areas of Rift valley an uni-modal rainfall pattern subjects households to food insecurity during certain months of the year.

In deed there is universal agreement that the riskiness of the environment is the major factor impacting upon the food security status of the household. Drought risk is captured through the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVT). NDVI stands for and is a measure of greenness or vegetative vigor and is commonly used as a proxy for rainfall.  Drought is seen as the main cause of food insecurity in Kenya (FEWS 1995, Save the Children Fund-UK, 1997, IGADD, 1990). FEWS (1998) classified the majority of marginal agricultural areas as well as the pastoral areas as highly risky environments by virtue of the high negative seasonal NDVI deviations. The impact of drought or low rainfall in food crop production in Kenya is aggravated by the fact that food production in Kenya is rain-fed (Mbithi 2000).  Low production due to drought leads to increased food fluctuations. Drought also leads to high mortality as well as poor body condition of livestock and therefore low livestock prices (DRIRP 1996, Save the Children Fund-UK, 1997). These factors erode purchasing power of households, which directly affects their food security. According to World Vision International (1986), drought was the main factor affecting livestock in Kajiado, Narok and Marsabit districts, and it had resulted into losses of cattle and shoats of over 80% during the 1984 drought season.  The heavy El Nino rainfall led to heavy to small livestock losses to some 20,000 pastoralists in Wajir, (FEWS, 1999).

The water hyacinth weed proliferation on Lake Victoria reduced the food security of the fishing households. Fishermen who had no access to large boat could not reach fish in the weed-covered shorelines. Fishing households therefore suffered income loss. The weeds led to severe flooding on the lakeshores, which further led to severe destruction of crops during the 1997/1998 short rains (FEWS, 1998). The worst affected areas included Kisumu, Homa Bay, Rachuonyo, Siaya and Busia.

Socioeconomic causes to food insecurity in Kenya

Poverty in Kenya Today and the Implications for Food Security

The poor constitute slightly more than half of the population of Kenya.  The poor are defined as those who cannot afford basic food and non-food items.  In 1997, the minimum cost to satisfy a daily 2250 calories requirement was estimated to be Ksh 927 per person per month in rural areas and Ksh 1254 in urban areas.  These define the food poverty line.  When non-food necessities were added, the overall poverty line in rural areas was taken as Ksh 1239 per person per month and for urban areas as Ksh 2648. The poor including the urban poor, poor pastoralists, poor in drought prune zones, resource poor households have been described as the most vulnerable to food insecurity because they have a low purchasing power.

Gender

Narayan and Nyamwaya (1995), found that the proportion of female headed households ranked as ‘very poor’ was high than that of male-headed households as contrasted to the larger proportion of male-headed households ranked rich in every district. In overall, 80% of female-headed households were ranked as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ as compared with 58% male-headed households so ranked in the entire sample. United Nations (1998) observed that gender disparities systematically disadvantaged women with regard to overall economic status as well as access to basic services. Women have been considered as one of the food insecure vulnerable groups (Kenya Food Security Steering Group 2000).

Aids

It has been shown that aids has adverse effects on agriculture including loss of skilled and unskilled labor supply, decline in labor productivity and loss of remittance income due to aids. A study of HIV/Aids on agriculture in three commercial agora-estates in Nyanza, Rift Valley and Eastern revealed that the cumulative cases of AIDS in the agora-estates accounts for as high as 30% of workforce in Nyanza, 12% in the Rift Valley and 3% in Eastern province (NASCOP, 1999). Morbidity and mortality in the households had led to decrease in acreage, loss of income, increased dependency ratio and general increase in food insecurity.

Livestock raiding (cattle rustling)

During 1997, Livestock raiding affected food security in the pastoral districts of Rift Valley, Eastern and North Eastern provinces.  The worst affected districts were the Samburu, Turkana, West Pokot, Isiolo, Wajir, Marakwet, Keiyo and Garissa (FEWS Kenya, 1998; FEWS Kenya, 1999).  The severity of the raids was exacerbated by increased availability of weapons supplied from neighboring countries in times of turmoil. Livestock raiding occurred in areas of good pasture, browse and water, where animals had concentrated. As a result pastoralists were displaced from favorable pastures to depleted lowlands after suffering heavy livestock losses. Insecurity itself impedes the marketing of livestock, as movement of animals to markets becomes risky. Prices in livestock therefore decline while prices of cereals and other foodstuffs appreciate, as traders are kept away from the risky markets. As a result, the pastoralists’ terms-of-trade decline and their purchasing power is eroded away.

Loss of harvested crop

Although the 1997/1998 harvests in Eastern Kenya were above average, rapid disposal of newly harvested grain coupled with the absence of on-farm storage facilities accelerated the state of crop loss in the area. Ellis (2000), showed that the extent of post harvest losses in Kenya is wide and varies, and has an average of about 10-15 % (weight loss). Major causes of post harvest losses in Kenya include unexpected natural circumstances such as heavy rains, poor harvest management and insects. These factors affect the amount of household on-farm foods and therefore affects household food security.

Coping strategies to food insecurity in Kenya

Pastoralists migrate to better pastures so as to avoid large large-scale livestock losses (FEWS, 1998). In 1997, the Turkana resulted to eating wild doum palm, selling of firewood, gifts from wealthier families to the poorer families, (Save, the Children, UK). Other strategies include, begging borrowing and relying on relief food in most drought prone areas. SCF-UK found that for Kitui district, in addition to crops, the coping strategy employed during the drought times in the region include livestock, livestock products, general relief distribution, school feeding programmes, wild foods, gifts and from purchases.

Farmers in marginal agricultural areas such as Eastern and Nyanza provinces, farm households employ charcoal burning, relief food, sand harvesting, petty trade, consumption of raw mangoes and the reduction of number of meals per day Kenya food steering group, 2000).



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