What govt has done to cushion Kenyans from hunger in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
By Nicholas Waitathu and Bernad Gitau
The government has launched a programme to mobilise food that will be offered to vulnerable Kenyans at a subsidised price as a way of cushioning them from hunger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The programme, which will involve buying cereals from parts of the country with food surplus, is being coordinated by the Agriculture ministry working closely with county governments.
Yesterday, Principal Secretary State Department for Crop Development and Agricultural Research Hamadi Boga told counties to map out insecure households that require to be provided with subsidised food.
“The Government of Kenya is developing strategies and guidelines to ensure smooth supply of staple nutritious foods at affordable prices for a majority of the population.
In addition, modalities are being developed to ensure mapping and provision of subsidised food to targeted, acute and food insecure households,” he said.
Agriculture ministry is targeting 32 counties as the government moots a plan to identify a fast response scheme to raise food directly from farmers to sell cheaply to the poor.
PS Boga said to the move was to manage the food security situation at both the National and county levels during the emergency period amid an urgent need for collection and timely sharing of data and information across all levels of governments.
“The purpose of the communication is to ensure there is no disruption of the food value chain.
All counties are required by tomorrow (Tuesday) to furnish the ministry headquarters with all the details on food availability or deficit,” the PS said in a letter to the Council of Governors.
The strategic food reserve has more than Sh10 billion in their coffers but Boga said the government will not resort to expending the cash to buy maize from farmers as doing so might be expensive.
“Our intention is to ascertain what the farmers, traders and millers are holding at the moment. Once we know the counties that have food it will be easier to facilitate easier access by deficit counties,” said Boga.
The slow down in economic activities or even shut down in critical sectors such as the hospitality industry has been compounded by the dusk-to-dawn curfew even as thousands of workers have been indefinitely sent home, some without a salary and others on half pay following shut down in manufacturing, service and hospitality sectors.
This is further compounded by the closure of schools leaving millions of children at home and needing food.
To forestall the unfolding crisis, the ministry identified 19 counties earmarked as food sufficient and which may have surplus to offer.
They include Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Nyamira, Nandi, Kericho, Narok, Nakuru, Kiambu, Muranga, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Nyeri, Laikipia, Nyandarua, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi, Machakos, Kitui and Makueni.
The ministry’s move comes a few days after Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) Board chairman Noah Wekesa told the People Daily the strategic grain reserve was empty.
“Our stores have nil stock. We sold our stock of four million bags last year and we have not purchased because the market price is beyond government reach,” he said.
The board had proposed Sh2,800 per 90kg bag but it was overruled when a price of Sh3,000 to Sh3,200 prevailed as it could not compete with millers and traders.
Wekesa said the Strategic Food Reserve mandate is to ensure the country has enough stock of maize, beans, rice, fish, and milk but currently, it is running on empty stores.
In his letter to the counties through Council of Governors (CoG) yesterday, the PS urged counties to give data on the available stocks in the country, and said that the cereals they plan to buy include rice, maize, beans, green grams, pigeon peas, wheat, millet and sorghum.
He requested county Agriculture executives to undertake county data validation and sharing of the same data for the targeted mentioned staples using the data collection and data sharing procedures’ template attached.
They are to target any person, agency, institute or organisation that may have stocks of food for sale, preservation or for other futuristic uses and check whether it can be accessed quickly by the government to mitigate the Covid-19 food security challenges.
“The main issues to be addressed urgently are provision of food subsidies to targeted food insecure Kenyans and ensuring that millers and key food processors access commodities with minimal disruption to routine operations,” the statement said.
Large to medium scale farmers, traders, aggregators and brokers/middlemen looking into trade licences, association membership, cooperatives and farmers’ association, he said, should develop simple, rapid communication tools to reach out the data sources.
The PS also urged consumers not to resort to panic buying but only purchase quantities based on needs.
“We would like people to be disciplined on food matters and not cause fear along the food chain.
The government will keep on monitoring the prices in the market with a view to deter unnecessary hike that might affect consumer purchasing power,” he said.