- With this goodwill from the government of India, it is important for the Kenyan side to reach out and engage on this front.
- To start with, millets must stop being seen as “poor man’s” food.
The United Nations General Assembly on March 5, 2021, declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
The proposal, which was submitted to UNGA by India, was backed by 72 states, including Kenya, and is intended to elevate awareness of millets for food security and nutrition, enhance investment in research and investment and extension.
The initiative also seeks to inspire stakeholders towards improving production productivity and quality of millets. India aims to make the International Year of Millets a global movement for the overall benefit of the “cultivator, consumer and climate”.
It is in this regard that the High Commission in Nairobi organised live streaming of the launch of Global Millet Conference from New Delhi that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
About 60 representatives from Indian community organisations, millet and agri-based businesses, professionals and Nyamira Senator Kennedy Mongáre were present at the event.
Amidst the ongoing rains, Kenya suffered the worst drought in 40 years, as has been the Horn of Africa region, a lot of it being attributed to climate change.
According to National Drought Management Authority, despite the reported rains in most parts of the country in the last Dekad (10-day rainfall period) of March, the drought situation remains critical in 21 of the 23 arid and semi-arid counties during the month of March 2023.
“Two counties namely Marsabit and Turkana remain in emergency drought phase. Eight counties namely Isiolo, Mandera, Kajiado, Samburu, Tana River, Wajir, Kilifi and Kitui are in alarm drought phase," NDMA said in its April situation report.
“Eleven counties including Baringo, Embu, Garissa, Lamu, Makueni, Laikipia, Narok, Nyeri, Meru, Kwale and Taita Taveta are in the Alert drought phase. While two counties; West Pokot and Tharaka Nithi are in normal drought phase.”
According to ASAL Humanitarian Network, due to the prolonged drought, farmers have been unable to get any substantive crop production for five consecutive seasons and pastoralist communities have lost their livestock.
And the increasing intensity and the shorter cycles between droughts, experts say, is amplifying the vulnerability of the communities and their ability to cope.
Droughts, among other disasters such as floods, underscore the need for Kenya to help its poorest population adapt by developing sustainable ways of making a living in the drylands.
Addressing the CoP27 meeting in Egypt in November last year, President William Ruto said that resources supposed to go to development were being diverted to relief support.
“Two days ago, we went to distribute food relief to 4.3 million affected Kenyans in an emergency programme that has forced us to re-allocate funds budgeted for education and health,” President Ruto said.
Food insecurity is further worsened by crop failure. NDMA has often warned that rain-fed crop production was likely to fail due to poor rains in dry areas.
NDMA bulletin further warned that the number of children at risk of malnutrition was increasing each month, and about five per cent of the households were consuming a poor diet in terms of food items and frequency of consumption.
The bulletin indicated that many households are not getting enough food, have limited dietary diversity and are malnourished. This was evident between May and November 2021.
The partnership between Kenya and India in millets research and development as well as growing can help in ensuring food security. To start with, millet is a hardy and drought crop and requires very less water so it can grow in low rainfall and moderate temperature conditions.
It is grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. Examples include sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet (major millets) foxtail, little, kodo, proso and barnyard millet (minor millets.
Minor millets require below 35cm of rainfall, while a few other major millets require at least 40cm of rainfall for a good harvest. This is compared to the annual rainfall of between 60cm to 110cm required for maize, Kenya’s staple food.
The crop is also nutritious, non-glutinous and non-acid forming. This will help in improving Kenyans’ nutrition and health wellness. Against this background, therefore, there is an opportunity for Kenya to tap lessons from India in this sector in its attempt to ensure food security.
Already, the two states in 2017 signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the agriculture sector and allied sector and line of credit for $100 million for agricultural mechanisation.
There is an already a framework to ensure these engagements. In March, India High Commissioner Namgya Khampa said India sees millet as an important contributor to food security and nutritious food basket.
“Expanding millets production can, therefore, address some of these challenges that governments, consumers and farmers face, as well as mitigating the adverse effects of climate change," Khampa said.
She added that the government of India will scale up partnerships that revolve around millets across the world, and in regards to Kenya, it will help in millets production, transfer of technology, of seeds and through capacity building programmes.
With this goodwill from the government of India, it is important for the Kenyan side to reach out and engage on this front. To start with, millets must stop being seen as “poor man’s” food.
With various regions in Kenya being good fields of growing millets such as Kisii and Nyanza, there is an opportunity to adapt to climate change and feed Kenyans amidst the harsh climatic conditions occasioned by climate change.