• Agriculture finds little credence within government circles as a critical economic development enabler.
• One of the major ways of achieving food security is through widespread irrigation projects that are in better shape than the one in Galana Kulalu.
As many countries fought the Covid-19 pandemic with lockdowns and economic shutdowns, Kenya was faced with a challenge of just how to feed its population in the event it also went that route.
Notably, the government was on the horns of a dilemma on how to enhance containment and minimise infection while at the same time ensuring the citizens have the economic power to buy food and meet other basic necessities. Already, some segments of the population were facing malnutrition, which meant reduced immunity.
During the pandemic, however, it has emerged that agriculture has been excluded from the economic stimulus packages even though farmers suffer despite playing a significant role in meeting population health needs. It is important to note that as things stand, it will be easy to kickstart most sectors of the economy after the contagion is contained but not the agricultural sector, which depends on strict planting and harvesting schedules in the absence of extensive irrigation infrastructure.
If there is one lesson that we should learn from this pandemic, it is that food, water and healthcare are the three most fundamental human needs. Yet, this virus has revealed how agriculture finds little credence within government circles as a critical economic development enabler, notwithstanding that food security is part of President Kenyatta’ Big Four Agenda.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the government and health agencies advised people to stay at home just to avoid contact with potentially infected people. For some middle-class Kenyans, especially government employees who had been given some time off work, this was an opportunity for bulk shopping in readiness for movement restrictions. The question in the minds of many was whether bulk shopping was sustainable. If things took a turn for the worse, the country would have run out of stock.
With our international borders closed, the country already had a challenge meeting the nutritional needs of its citizens given that it relies on imports to complement local production, yet the Ministry of Health was on record asking Kenyans to maintain a balanced diet to boost immunity — no doubt crucial to the fight against the virus.
What the government seems to have ignored was the source of food that would sustain the population during quarantine and isolation. Unlike the Western countries that were able to manage complete lockdowns, Kenya was faced with a challenge, an inadequate food reserve that could not sustain the people even for a week.
Therefore, focusing on sustainable farming as a means of enhancing food security could be the solution to future pandemics. The idea is for the government to promote massive agricultural production so administrations at both levels — county and national — would have food silos and store enough cereals that would come in handy during such hard times.
That would make it possible for the government to impose travel restrictions, and even lockdowns, to contain a deadly disease during the first days or weeks, yet still be able to feed the people. That way, it would be possible to address future health crises, especially those related to highly infectious viruses that call for movement restriction and isolation.
One of the major ways of achieving food security is through widespread irrigation projects that are in better shape than the one in Galana Kulalu. Such initiatives should be established in each county. Also, the government should consider incentives to young people willing to venture into agriculture, thereby encouraging them and helping improve their productivity.
Of course, this would also help in addressing the unemployment crisis currently hurting the youth. The result would be an increase in national food production that would not only be beneficial during pandemics but also in eradicating hunger in the perennially starving parts of the country.
Ochola K’Ochola is an Environmental Planning and Management graduate and a current affairs commentator