In August last year, the government through Johnstone Irungu, the director of crops in the Agriculture ministry announced that yield was projected to rise from 37 million bags to 40.9 million bags of maize.
True to his word, it happened and now the discussion moved from a hungry nation to the price of a 90Kg bag. The government proposed Ksh2,300 per bag, which the farmers rejected.
At the price of Ksh2,300, the government would have bought 2.5 million bags to its Strategic Food Reserve. After negotiations, the government raised the amount to Ksh2,500 but cleverly reduced the number of bags to 2 million bags.
This was in January 2019. A month later, people are dying of hunger in Turkana and Baringo while several others are facing starvation in other arid and semi arid counties.
This is despite the National Drought Management Authority giving early warnings to the situation in the affected counties.
So who failed?
With such a warning, it was the responsibility of the government to create mechanisms to make sure food reached these areas in advance. However, with a reactive rather than proactive government nothing could be done until deaths were announced.
A Strategic Food Reserve cannot be created where there is plenty, instead it should be taken to places that are prone to hunger. Instead, such food reserves were created where the food is produced in plenty. This was the first mistake the government did.
In cases where the government cannot make supplies to areas with shortage, they should create an enabling environment for businessmen to do that. This would include setting higher prices of commodities in such areas. With such businessmen would be attracted and they would supply commodities in a bid to make profits. Within a short time, supply would be even in all parts of the country and prices would return to equilibrium.
Food security being a national government duty, there should be clear coordination and mechanisms to alleviate such situations, instead of waiting to react when people die.
County governments should also never be left out in preparing for such cases, as they are close to the mwananchi and have the details at hand of the conditions at the grassroots.
Another failure by the government is failing to put in place long term measures to shun disaster.
Currently, the meteorological department has predicted floods in some parts of the country. The government just announced that it would build 21 dams before the onset of the log rains. That was a week ago, and in less than a week we shall have rains. No dam is ready.
This means that hunger-struck areas might experience floods, meaning more calamity for them. Within a month or two, the rains will go and the same areas will be experiencing drought again.
The flood waters can be arrested to ensure that it can be used to do irrigation, to ensure food security.
Also, the government should ensure security in such areas so that economic activities can be stabilised. The reason businessmen fear distributing food to such areas is lack of security. A robust economy goes hand in hand with security.