Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kenya: Leaders to Blame for Food Crisis

By David Kigochi

It is a shameful and difficult moment for Kenyans as the world watches the images of people dying of hunger in some parts of the country. The apathy by the government is despicable as it has been clear that there was going to be a shortage of food. It is sad that the government has had to be jolted into action by individual Kenyans and corporates.

This is a reflection of an increasingly indifferent and inhumane leadership which lives on the great largesse and expense of tax payers whose resources they have failed to manage better.
The privileged few are busy creating a welfare state for themselves while the rest of the citizens wallow in poverty and hunger. The famine has not spared anyone irrespective of ethnicity, region or political enclaves. The areas ravaged by famine have MPs and ministers in the government. Their inaction borders on criminal negligence. They only give knee-jerk reactions when images of the dying invade their living rooms and appetites.

And if deaths are not reported to them, then no one surely could have starved to death!

Most Kenyans know what is needed to mitigate against drought and famine- water harvesting, sustainable land policy, efficient farming methods, resistant crops, forestation, banning useless imports, cheap credit, good storage facilities and irrigation.

Infrastructure is crucial. If there were accessible roads in these regions, food would be available to the drought struck regions and farmers would not be feeding their potato and cabbage crops to their livestock because they lack accessible roads to get their crop to market!

It smacks of criminal negligence for the government to admit its food distribution system is ineffective and the only response is to deploy the military and National Youth Services when people are dying. It appears that famine is big business. Famine is a cash-cow to well-heeled operatives in the corridors of power. There is big money in transport and logistics as administrators divert and sell famine relief supplies. Coincidentally, every famine is preceded by a season of plenty. Last year, for example, there was the glut that saw dairy processors empty thousands of litres of milk into trenches.

Less than eight months later, milk prices have risen from Sh21 to Sh30. Another bumper harvest in parts of Eastern went to waste due to poor storage. At the same time, the Government announced a measly price of Sh1,200 for a bag of maize due to glut. This price was considerably lower than the Sh2,500 being offered to farmers in neighbouring countries. Naturally, farmers found it only sensible to sell their produce to the more lucrative foreign markets, leaving the country struggling to replace the depleted strategic grain reserve.

We cannot talk of Vision 2030 as there can never be a vision for the dead. We need to get our priorities right. For decades we have been talking about food security and yet we continue with the same trend of talking and doing nothing.

We know the solutions to the problem-provide water for irrigation, educate farmers on modern agricultural practices, infrastructure to distribute food from surplus to deficit areas. For this to happen, we need proactive leadership one that is listening to the people. Kenyans are starving not because the land is infertile, but because there is total mix up of priorities. In the short term, the government can suspend the servicing of the Sh32 billion debt to the Central Bank of Kenya and divert the funds towards an aggressive programme to put up dams in drought prone zones, upscale irrigation projects, open up the road network in the famine ravaged zones to ensure access and supply of food in the affected areas.
Kigochi is the national convenor, Central for United Kenya Forum.

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