Coronavirus: Food markets and supplies must be protected

In Summary

• Whatever the farmers have today needs to get to the consumer with as little restrictions as possible, all within the prevailing laws and guidelines.

• The police should not block deliveries as we saw recently when the curfew was introduced as goods must reach the consumers.

Traders at Muthurwa Market on March 30, 2020
Traders at Muthurwa Market on March 30, 2020
Image: MERCY MUMO

I am a poutry farmer and my egg market has collapsed as hotels, institutions and kiosks have closed down. This is happening to almost all farmers in the country irrespective of what they produce.

We are, however, not going to throw away what is already in our shambas as the country needs the foodstuff. We are not, in addition, going to stop planting just because of CORID-19 crisis as the country will need the foodstuff even after the crisis is over.

Whatever the farmers have today needs to get to the consumer with as little restrictions as possible, all within the prevailing laws and guidelines. The police should not block deliveries as we saw recently when the curfew was introduced as goods must reach the consumers.

Food markets play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining national and household food security. Without the already well-established food chain, the people, especially in urban areas, would starve in a time such as this. We, therefore, have the responsibility for sustaining life in these areas. D

uring the political crisis of 2007/08, Nairobi experienced shortages when foodstuff flows into the city were interrupted. Many in the slum areas then went without food as it was either too expensive or was simply not available.

Once the food is curtailed for whatever reasons, people’s reactions can be disastrous. We must, this time, not allow a repeat of what happened then with food shortages.

It is critical that the government guidelines take into account that most of the fresh foodstuff in particular, all over the world, leave the farms in the afternoon and then it is moved at night.

It gets into the wholesale markets in urban areas by 4am at the latest in order for it to be at the local shops or markets as the people wake up. Any change to this established system at a time people are constrained by curfew could lead to disastrous results.

We should also take into account that most Kenyans buy foodstuff on a daily basis because of their low income as they are not able to buy in bulk. For these reasons, food markets and the entire chain need to be maintained.

The government should give a special exemption to those in this food distribution chain to transport the goods even during the curfew times.

It should also ensure that the market places are not destroyed; that they are not overcrowded and that they meet the public health requirement in order to reduce personal contacts.

As many of our low-income people tend to go into the market late in the day after earning some money, security should also be provided at these markets. These, plus other measures that are already being undertaken, will go a long way in ensuring smooth food delivery.

The Coronavirus crisis will come and go. This is not the first one that the world has faced, although this one is exceptional in its magnitude. What will happen if we forgot to plan ahead from a food supply point of view?

This is the planting season in some parts of the country. The country must support the farmer by ensuring that he gets quality seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, veterinary drugs, animal feeds and appropriate credit on a timely basis.

The subsidized fertilizer program to the farmer has not worked well recently and a solution must be found urgently. Times of crisis such as this requires urgent and decisive actions.

Given the near-collapse of the world economies that we are likely to experience this time around, we should allocate more resources to the agricultural sector. It understandable that our number one priority is to the health sector at the moment, but we should not forget about tomorrow.

The government should, for there to be no food crisis now or after CORID-19, firstly, waive taxes and cess that makes foodstuff expensive. We are currently within the East African Community the most expensive food producer for various well-known reasons.

Secondly, come up with more appropriate rules and guidelines that will ensure that food gets to the table unhindered. These guidelines must be understood by all who are charged with the responsibility of the smooth operation of government policy.

If some of the implementors in the chain get it wrong, it could lead to failure in fighting the Coronavirus.

Thirdly, if necessary, the NYS could be brought on board to assist with the transportation especially to and within the urban areas.

Fourthly, negotiate for easier flow of foodstuff within EAC without hurting our local farmers. The current problem for our farmers is that foodstuffs come from our neighbouring countries in an uncontrolled manner, thus hurting them.

This is important because Kenya has a food deficit and there are products that she needs from our neighbour and their unavailability would worsen the situation.

There is no question that, with God’s help, we shall defeat this virus. Food is a critical part of this fight.