Food shortages are critical.

Author:Mwangi, Patrick

Kenya is currently facing critical food shortages which require huge levels of food imports to ward off starvation, a situation which was hitherto unprecedented in this country.

Some people are reported already to have died of starvation in some remote areas of the country, and the government warn that at least 4m people are at risk.

Pastoralist from the worst-affected areas have been forced by prolonged drought to sell their cattle to butchers at throwaway prices; the only other alternative is to watch the animals die from thirst or starvation.

The first warning that Kenya was in trouble came from the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in October, in its special report on the food-supply situation and crop prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa. There was no immediate response to the warning

The first indication most Kenyans had of the urgency of the food-shortage situation came in December, when President Moi issued an international appeal for food aid.

Kenya had been termed in the FAO report as one of the African countries requiring emergency food aid, as it would be unable to cover its food deficit through commercial imports.

The FAO report put Kenya's import requirements for cereals at 1.1m tonnes. It stated that Kenya had produced an estimated 3.03m t of cereals during the 1993/94 season, while utilisation ran to 4.13m t.

Of the food deficit, 550,000t was expected to be covered by commercial food imports, while an equal proportion was to come in the form of food aid.

The FAO report noted that the foreign-exchange crunch which Kenya has been facing would limit the scale of commercial imports.

Close on the heels of Moi's international appeal for food assistance to Kenya, the UK donated 5,000t of food worth Ksh100m (about $1.47m). In January, France announced its own donation of 4,000t of maize, to be offloaded at Mombasa in February.

The World Food Programme (WFP) also weighed in with a hefty pledge, of 82,500t of food aid valued at Ksh2.45bn, in January. The WFP indicated that the food was meant to help 1m people threatened by drought and starvation.

The food aid consists of 44,544t of maize, beans and edible oils and another 38,000t of commodities previously committed but not shipped.

The first batch of the government's own imports of maize through the stateowned National Cereals & Produce Board (NCPB) was due for arrival in late March.Minister for Agriculture, Livestock Development & Marketing Simeon Nyachae, in announcing the...

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