Food insecurity in Kenya is a rapidly growing issue as the country’s drought conditions could lead to an estimated 2.1 million citizens facing starvation, according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). The dry conditions have impacted agricultural harvests that are an essential food source for Kenyans. 

At the beginning of September, the country declared a state of disaster on the worsening drought conditions, with governmental spokesperson, Kanze Dena Mararo, saying in the official statement that the government would “assist affected households including water and relief food distribution as well as livestock uptake.”

According to the NDMA, drought-driven food insecurity in Kenya has been a result of poor rainy seasons between March and May this year. They also said that the rainy season between October and December would produce low levels of rain, and predicted that matters could worsen because of this. The association highlighted that citizens across 23 counties in the north, northeastern, and coastal parts of the country would be most impacted and will be in “urgent need” of food aid over the next six months.

Climate change has significantly impacted food production in the country, with drought-affected regions having also had to deal with flash floods and locust infestations. Speaking to the Guardian, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, Asha Mohammed, explained that these issues, coupled with conflict have been disastrous for the nation. 

“You have two seasons of depressed rains, desert locusts ravaging farmlands in the same counties, and people fighting over the few resources available. That is the making of a disaster,” she said.

Mohammed also spoke to the impact that COVID-19 has had on food security, both for farmers, and for those living in urban areas who have seen an increase in the price of food. 

“There is some food reaching the urban areas within these counties but there is little purchasing power because many have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

Job losses in the agricultural industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy have also played a role in the low production of food. The change of workflow, which includes having to social distance on farms and to work with fewer people, has proven to be a significant hurdle for farmers to overcome. 

The NDMA said that the social distancing measures “restricted the communal performance of agricultural activities and availability of casual labour opportunities, reducing the amount of land cultivated and projected crop production”.

Overall, affected areas in the country will see a 50% decrease in the production of its staple food, maize, with some regions predicted to experience total crop failure, according to the NDMA. 

Speaking to the Guardian, a farmer from eastern Kenya, ​​Thomas Waita, explained that the lack of water has been a struggle that almost all the farmers in his region are facing. He explained that even though he has managed to salvage some of his produce with a drip irrigation system, many farmers cannot restrict the amount of water they use for their crops, and the drying river beds will prove to be a significant challenge. 

“We are told it’s because of climate change. In the past, we used to have many trees here but most have been cut down for firewood and charcoal. [Scientists] tell us such fuels are contributing to global warming and changing rainfall patterns,” said Waita.

Mohammed told the Guardian that the country had to think long-term when considering its response to the climate crisis and its impact on food security. 

​​“It’s clear this is going to get worse,” she said. “We have all the data to help these communities become more resilient and bounce back.”

In the state of disaster announcement, spokesperson Mararo stated that details of the government’s drought management plan would be revealed soon. 

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Defend the Planet

2.1 Million Kenyans at Risk of Starvation Due to Droughts

By Khanyi Mlaba