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Regional drought worsens Kenya’s hunger worries

Regional countries where Kenya can import maize to cover a predicted deficit next year are experiencing a dry spell that will inevitably lead to poor harvests.

According to an assessment by Tegemeo Institute conducted last month indicates the country needs to import at least nine million bags of maize to avert hunger mid next year but ravaging famine in region has dampened Kenya’s hopes to tap neighbouring countries.

“The problem is that East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa)  member countries are experiencing maize shortages. The situation could be aggravated by meteorological forecasts that show the drought could get worse as the La Nina phenomenon sets in from December,” said Francis Karin, a researcher at Tegemeo Institute.

The survey results by Tegemeo Institute are in tandem with the Ministry of Agriculture announcement in July that poor rainfall would cut this year’s maize harvest by 4.6 million bags.

Despite a good harvest in most regions in Uganda, the eastern parts of the country are experiencing drought while Tanzania has banned maize exports.

South Sudan, the youngest EAC member, is experiencing a biting drought and civil conflict. The country requires up to 200,000 bags of maize to address an immediate hunger situation.

Zambia is predicted to have a good harvest but the country is likely to come to the resuce of its neighbour — Malawi — which is also experiencing food shortage.

Worsening the food situation in east and central Africa is Zambia’s eastern neighbour — Democratic Republic of Congo — which is suffering the impact of famine.

Even if there was plenty of maize in Comesa countries, imports to Kenya would be hampered by a Common External Tariff of 50 per cent that is slapped on goods entering the EAC bloc.

“Another headache which the government must sort out to avert food shortage in future is the ban on genetically modified (GM) foods that was imposed in 2012,” Karin said.

Tegemeo Institute director Mary Mathenge said lifting of GM foods ban does not mean the government will harm Kenyans but give them a solution out of hunger.

“Policymakers should reconsider GM foods ban,” she said.

Another dark cloud hanging over the country’s food security situation is an alarm raised by the Auditor General, Edward Ouko, last week that more than 754,000 bags maize held in national strategic food reserve are unfit for human consumption.

“Maize stock valued at Sh1.8 billion stored in the National Cereals and Produce Board silos has been damaged,” Ouko said in a report. Regional drought worsens Kenya’s hunger worries

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