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February 22, 2019

Warning risks of food security

Cows belonging to Pokot tribesmen walk around the carcass of an elephant killed by armed cattle herders in Mugui Conservancy, Kenya February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Cows belonging to Pokot tribesmen walk around the carcass of an elephant killed by armed cattle herders in Mugui Conservancy, Kenya February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

On Jamhuri Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the Big Four agenda to underpin his development programmes for his last term.

To meet its objectives for the food security pillar, the Big Four strategy proposes to achieve these through actions including targeted taxation on arable land to use, encourage and facilitate large-scale commercial agriculture, diversify staples through irrigation and other technologies, protect water towers, provision of better extension services and market access to small holders, redesign subsidies to improve yields and production quality, and working with private sectors to improve distribution, wastage, storage and value addition.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation will also be expected to publish terms and conditions for commercial farmers to lease idle land owned by the government to raise production of strategic crops. This five year initiative should see Jubilee government cut poverty and hunger significantly and use this as legacy for the next campaigns.


For many observers, this is not the first time the government has come up with very ambitious food security projects that later achieved little, largely due to faulty implementation strategies.

A most recent example is the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme, a Sh7.29 billion government flagship project that covered about one million acres in Kilifi and Tana River counties.

It was intended to create 2 million jobs both directly and indirectly. Some 200,000 acres were to be cropped with maize and the remaining 200,000 acres were to be used for other agricultural enterprises.

Other economic activities such as support industries – hotel, commercial centres, tourism and other commercial activities were to emerge as a result of developing these farms.

This model was to be replicated in other parts of the country.

Despite the project being located in a semi-arid environment prone to prolonged droughts and dry spells, little evidence exists to show that climate risk considerations were integrated in the design of Galana-Kulalu.

A key gap in most of the programmes has been failure to integrate climate risk considerations to ensure these food systems are resilient to climate change and variability. Here in lies the key challenge for the Big Four pillar on food security.


According to a recent study by KMT, the situation is already dire in the 21 arid and semi-arid counties, which have recorded sustained temperature increase (between 0.5°C and 1.9°C) between 1960 and 2014 and reduced rainfall over the same period, leading to 27 per cent decline in cattle numbers, and 76 per cent increase in sheep and goats.

We also witnessed fatal conflicts between pastoralists and private ranch owners in Laikipia county as the invading herders sought fodder for their starving cattle.

Not only were lives lost in many cases, but the markets were denied a sustained supply of high quality meat, and livelihoods were lost given that pastoralism provides 75 per cent of arid and semi-arid land jobs.

The food situation in the country still remains dire and could worsen if predicted climate change and variability trends hold.

The year 2017 saw events such as pre-term flowering of coffee that led to heavy production losses.

Severe shortage of maize in the country’s reserves similarly led to the government importing its supplies from Mexico and lowering prices of maize flour.

Pests and diseases e.g. the fall army worms, degraded soils in most parts of the country and dwindling farm sizes for staple food production are additional factors that compounded the impact of climate variability and change on the crop and livestock sectors in the country.

The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts an increase in temperature between 0.3°C and 0.7°C over the next two decades. Going into the future, a 2015 study 'Climate change and eastern Africa: A review of impact on major crops' published in the Food and Energy Security journal predicts yield losses of up to 72 per cent for wheat and 45 per cent of maize, rice and soybean by the end of the century.

It also finds that drought-resistant cereals (millet, sorghum) and root crops (yams, cassava) will be less affected and that up to 40 per cent yield loss is also expected for tea and coffee due to reduction in suitable growing areas cause by the projected temperature increase.

Over 50 per cent loss of all ASAL cattle production is also expected as extreme temperature stress in the arid and semi-arid lands exceeds 30°C—a tolerance limit for heat stress for cattle.

This loss is equivalent to 1.7 million cattle by the 2030s, a loss equivalent to at least $340 million (Sh34 billion) at today’s exchange rate. Transformation of agricultural systems, for example switching crop types or moving out of agriculture completely, is projected to be necessary in some cases.


Two things are critical going forward. First, it is critical that the Big Four strategy drawn by the President’s team appreciates and incorporates climate change in its food security pillar rollout plan.

Secondly, an institutional framework embedded in law would be the best option for the governance and coordination of all relevant institutions along the climate information chain.

Examples of institutions in government include Kenya Meteorological Services, those in private sector such as private radio stations, including vernacular ones and actors in the priority crop and livestock value chains, while civil society players would include institutions such as the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Among the things this institutional arrangement would oversee include the adoption of appropriate technologies (best farming practices and ICT applications for climate information generation and dissemination), ensure social acceptance of the technologies by farmers and financial sustainability (through appropriate budgets to line ministries and appropriate public-private partnerships) of all efforts needed to ensure resilience to climate change and variability across priority value chain levels. It will also ensure coordination between relevant county and national government agencies.

For example, counties such as Vihiga and Makueni have already integrated climate risk and actions in their county integrated development plans.

The benefits of integrating climate change considerations include efficient climate prediction, early warning and adaptation planning functions.

Proper implementation of the Food Security pillar of the Big Four will not only contribute towards the country’s achievement of its Vision 2030, its obligations under the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods signed by AU heads of state in 2014, and various SDGs.

It would also improve Kenya’s dismal performance on the AU’s African Agricultural Transformation Scorecard, and achieve a climate resilient crop and livestock production systems envisaged in AGRA’s Africa Agricultural Status Report of 2017.

The writer is a senior programme specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Centre based in Nairobi.

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