Over 3.1 million Kenyans stare at starvation due to Covid-19 and locusts

Over 3.1 million Kenyans stare at starvation due to Covid-19 and locusts

Jun 20, 2020 COLUMNS by admin

President Kenyatta assures that measures are in place to cushion farmers.  

By Robert Laban


Angeline Mwikali is a happy farmer.

She may not be engaging in large-scale farming in their seven-acre farm in Kitui county, but she has not only been making ends meet, but she also ensured that her family has access to nutritional food.

After struggling for years on the same farm and yielding next to nothing, Angeline and other women in different sub counties came together to discuss ways to improve their lot through farming.  They were brought together by GROOTS Kenya, an organisation that works with women in 17 counties in the country.

They use technology to communicate and to access information that help them do better farming.  About eight years later, it has been mainly success on their part. They managed to push away brokers and middle men from their midst and have most managed to buy motorbikes which they use to transport their produce directly to local market within and outside their counties.  To sum it up, Angeline and other women in specific counties including, Laikipia, Isiolo, Nakuru, and parts of Samburu are happy farmers.

However, since Covid-19 struck with Kenya confirming the first case, they have not sat still. Shortly after the dreaded coronavirus reared its ugly head in the country, swarms of locusts struck in parts of the country. They fear that devastation by locusts and the consequences would leave them exposed.  The mothers are anxious that the work of their hands would go down the drain and expose their families to hunger at a difficult time when Kenya-like the global community-is in the middle of a deadly and peculiar pandemic.

Recent reports that more than 3.1 million Kenyans could be staring at hunger and starvation as a result of Covid-19 instigated challenges and infestation of locusts has not made the anxiety any better, not just to Angeline and her colleague, but to the country’s farmers.

The Global Report on Food Crises, 2020 which recently surveyed Kenya in addition to 70 other countries indicates that COVID-19 would devastate livelihoods and food security for “most vulnerable people” working in informal agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.  

“These (71) countries may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods, or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the coronavirus to have them die from hunger,” says the Global Network Against Food Crises co-founded by the European Union, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme in 2016.     

Although Kenya has received abundant seasonal rains this year- a precursor of improved food production – severe locust invasion since December 2019 has dashed the farmers’ hopes of increased harvests.

Swarms of desert locusts from Asia through Ethiopia and Somalia spread in 28 counties especially north eastern, south rift, eastern and parts of Mt. Kenya region in the first quarter of 2020.

“In countries where crop and livestock production are affected by the desert locust outbreak, the restrictions on movement may hinder locust control operations with dramatic consequences for crop production,” notes the 240-page report.

The government intensified the control of the destructive pests, but the fight slowed from March, 2020 following the recording of the first case of Covid-19 in the country leading to various measures like movement restriction put in place to curb the spread.

Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu and Isiolo are four counties that are seriously infested with the locusts amid government’s intervention through aerial and ground spraying. 

According to the report 27.5 million people in six Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, Kenya being a member, were in acute food crisis from the continent’s 73 million people in dire need of food in 2019.  The report says that though the figures herein were as a result of the survey carried out till the end of 2019, Covid-19 and locust crises will lead push the figures beyond 3.1 million or Kenya.

Most vulnerable groups as per the report include urban poor families, whose income has been greatly affected by the pandemic as a result of loss of even informal jobs. Further, rural dwellers whose crops have been destroyed by locusts as well as vegetation for the pastoralists, also stare at food crisis in the expected suppressed farm outputs. 

A fruit seller in Kangemi open air market in Nairobi on June 22, 2020. various organisation have warned that Covid-19 and locust invasion will push more families into poverty and hunger. Photo: Dorcas Moraa.

The report was released at a time hundreds of Kenyans in the formal and informal sectors have lost jobs, others forced to take pay-cuts of up to 40 per cent, or unpaid leave as adverse effects of Covid-19 eat into the economy by reducing the purchasing power of most households. For the little food that will be available, it will be on high demand, therefore, expensive for families, which are already wallowing in suppressed incomes.

With COVID-19 cases on rise in Kenya – surpassing the 4,000 mark by mid-June, 2020 – and Africa, the report reveals that people in food crises have compromised immune system, therefore, increasing their risk of developing severe Covid-19 symptoms. This is due to malnutrition deficiencies contributing to higher rates of underlying health conditions including non-communicable diseases.

“Rising levels of food insecurity and lack of access to healthcare either because of movement restrictions, strained health systems or falling incomes are likely to increase malnutrition rates, particularly among children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly,” observes the report. 

The government would, therefore, be required to strike a balance in mobilizing and coordinating all operational and strategic priorities towards preventing citizens from succumbing to COVID-19 and hunger.    

President Uhuru Kenyatta assures that the government is at hand to ensure that the situation would not degenerate and hurt Kenyans.  A stimulus package, he announced in his seventh address to the nation on the status of Covid-19, would be given to the agriculture sector to enable the country cope with the effects of the pandemic and to ensure food security.

“My Administration has prioritized Ksh. 3 billion for the supply of farm inputs through e-vouchers, targeting 200,000 small scale farmers. This is meant to cushion farmers from the effects of adverse weather, and to secure food supply chains in the post COVID-19 period and into the future.  Further, under this programme we have allocated Ksh. 1.5 billion to assist flower and horticultural producers to access international markets, in a period where we have a shortage of flights into and out of the country,” the president said on May 23, 2020.  

In addition, the government has since constituted a COVID-19 County Coordination and Food Security Committee comprising key sector ministries and Council of Governors, chaired by Agriculture minister Peter Munya. 

According to the report, South Sudan recorded the highest population among IGAD countries in worst food crisis at 61 percent followed by Ethiopia (27 percent), Kenya (22 percent), Somalia (17 percent) and Sudan (14 percent).

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