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Kenyans face food crisis, FAO warns

UN agency says situation to worsen by 2040 as maize farming area decrease due to climate change

Nicholas Waitathu @PeopleDailyKe

Kenya is staring at an acute food shortage in the next 20 years due to increase in effects of climate change, United Nations has warned.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN specialised agency on combating hunger, warned early this week that the impact of climate change is expected to interrupt food production as area under main crops will decrease by almost half.

FAO crops officer Wilson Ronno said incidences of high temperature, emergence of new pest and diseases will increase, for instance, causing land under maize to decrease by 40 per cent.

“For example, area under maize production is likely to reduce by 800,000 hectares from the current 2.1 million hectares to 1.2 million hectares,” he said Ronno.

In the long run, he observed, this will affect maize production leading to a huge import bill which the country will have to grapple with.

In addition to vagaries of climate change, food production will be affected by the high rate of urbanisation and surge in population. According to Economic Survey 2017, Kenya spent Sh114.6 billion on imports of food and beverages.

Food import bill increased by 5.1 per cent from Sh109 billion in 2012 to Sh114.6 billion in 2016. Trade principal secretary Chris Kiptoo said in a phone interview that food imports rose to Sh242.4 billion ($2.4 billion) last year.

Major food imports include maize, unmilled wheat and wheat flour, rice, sugar, molasses and honey and edible products. Kenyans are among high consumers of maize compared to her peers in the region.

Data from Ministry of Agriculture reveals that maize production stand at between 37 million bags and 42 million bags despite the country’s production potential.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics recently indicated that Kenyans consume 51 million bags of maize against a production of 40 million annually. Ronno explained that area under maize will be affected by high temperatures while new pest such as fall armyworms will be noticed and deadly diseases will emerge.

“In the recent past we have witnessed emergence of fall armyworms in maize growing areas and outbreak of maize necrosis disease. In the long run we are likely to witness more interruption in terms of pests and diseases which will be disastrous to food production,” he said.

Ronno spoke at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO) headquarters in Nairobi during a media briefing by FAO and representatives of European Union on execution of international treaty on plant genetic resource for food and agriculture.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe said in a recent interview that for every five years the country has to grapple with severe drought leading to high food insecurity.

“The effects of climate change are real and in every four to five year-cycle we have to face an extreme drought. The rising temperature coupled with new crops diseases and pests will, to a large extent, restrain food production thus leading to famine,” he said.

According to Kenya Meteorological Department, in coming years, vagaries of climate change such as drought and flooding will be extreme. “Effects of climate change are likely to be extreme, severe and frequent,” warns the weather agency.

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