By MARGARET WAHITO, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 25 – Lack of proper food market systems is one of the main reason Kenyans in some parts of the country continue to suffer every time there is drought.
According to East African Grain Council (EAGC) Chief Executive Officer, Gerald Masila, poor markets systems have seen some parts of the country especially high production areas struggle with food surplus while low production areas especially the arid, suffer hunger during dry seasons.
Masila who spoke to Capital FM Business argues that in most seasons the country has had enough food but too many barriers stand in the way of supplying it across the country.
“If you have a situation where your information systems are wrong in terms of being able to know where to buy or sell; if the policy systems are not supportive in that they are hindering; if you don’t have systems in storage and warehousing, then the market systems collapses. In this case you don’t find food moving from where it’s being produced in Kiambu or Nyahururu, to where it’s needed to be,” Masila explains.
For a long time, he says, the government has set the price of maize when buying from the farmers, something he says has contributed to high cost the commodity in the market hence being unaffordable by the time it reaches to the needy consumers.
Instead, the council is calling for the reduction of cost of production and eventually allow free market which will bring in competition and lower the food cost for the end consumer.
“The government has set aside the price at Sh2,800 and that now becomes like the base price for the market. It means if I am a trader, and I am going to buy maize from the producing areas and sell it to Taita Taveta or where there is hunger, it means I will pay the farmer Sh2, 800, I will pay someone to load the track maybe Sh100 a bag and that is Sh2,900. I will also pay transportation and when I am crossing each county, I have to pay cess which is say around Sh400. It means you will be delivering the maize at over Sh3,400 a bag,” Masila says ” this is so high.”
Apart from poor market systems in the country, the council also blames frequent hunger when there is drought to lack of preparedness, not only by the government but also the citizens themselves.
“A lot of time the immediate knee jerk reaction people make is to quickly find a scapegoat; someone to blame. And sometimes I find the government being blamed. Yes the government has a role in terms of the social welfare and it’s able to respond to areas of extreme emergency. But that is far the government can do. But it would not be possible to go to every 23 county and dish food to every household,” he says.
It was time for cultural changes especially among the pastoralist communities, he says, in terms of engaging in farming activities not only for their food, but animal feeds too which can be stored and used during the dry season.
At the same time he says dependency on pasture has overtime proved not dependable during dry seasons. The council has however called on the government to create awareness what type of food crops that can be planted in arid areas to avoid hunger when there is drought.
Over dependency on maize should also be avoided in the country urging for more alternative food crops which can survive in any area.
“Food has been equated to maize and maize to food.”
Margaret has been a business reporter for the past four years. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Communications and Public Relations from Moi University.