Tackling food shortage in Kenya as maize prices double; Research

Tackling food shortage in Kenya as maize prices double; Research
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Kenyan government has been called upon to take long-term measures which will help solve the current food scarcity and avoid a future crisis.

According to Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute in Egerton University, food insecurity sits at the top of Kenya’s challenges as the country experience higher food prices than ever in 2022.

Njagi notes that among the commodities that have seen high price increases is maize which he says has doubled in price within a year.

He attributes the current food inflation to the effects of Covid-19, drought and the Russia-Ukraine war which have affected production of food and inputs for production, prices of inputs in the global market, and supply of grains.

“Kenya is experiencing one of the worst droughts registered in the past four decades. The La Niña weather phenomenon has hit the central, eastern and northern regions of the country, leaving about 4.3 million Kenyans in need of food assistance as of August 2022,” points out the researcher.

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According to the researcher, the government must work towards reducing cost of production, fixing policy incoherence, combating climate change and building farmers’ resilience, reducing post-harvest losses, investing in agricultural data systems, and addressing stagnation in productivity in combating the current food shortage and preventing a future crisis.

Njeru notes that in 2022, the cost of all inputs, including seed, fertiliser, agro-chemicals, hire of machinery and labour, increased and that simulations based on cost of production studies suggest that the cost of maize production will likely rise by an average of 60% for the 2022 main season.

“The cost of production is projected to be upwards of KSh4,000 or about US$40 for a 90kg bag, with a two-kilogram packet of flour retailing at an average of KSh220 (US$2.2),” says Mr. Njeru.

He suggest that in order to maintain prices at affordable levels, farmers should aim to produce maize for less than KSh1, 800 (US$18) per 90-kg bag which would allow the producers to sell at around KSh2, 300 (US$23).

On climate change, Njeru says that the government must invest in getting and sharing advance information about weather as alerts about weather would inform farmers about what to plant.

To reduce post-harvest losses, he calls for better handling and storage of grain and investing in agricultural data systems as reliable and credible data will be useful for informing policies and interventions.

He also advises the government to make decisions based on empirical evidence and rather not based on political motivations.

Njeru also encourages the national government to work in collaboration with the devolved governments which are nearer to the farmers and also work towards reviving agricultural extensions and advisory systems.

He concludes by advising the government to emulate Ethiopia which he notes that has doubled its cereal productivity over the past two decades through revamping its extension systems and combining them with an inputs subsidy programme which delivered seeds and fertilisers to farmers. He says that Ethiopia’s strategy was “to teach farmers about new technologies and enable them to get the inputs required to use new knowledge.”