Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- The famine situation in Kenya has severely cast doubts on the country's national food policy, which seeks to ensure adequate supply nation-wide and at all times.
This policy, spelt out in the 2002-2008 National Development Plan was expected to prepare Kenya to tackle the challenge of food shortage.
Yet, two months since the onset of famine, new forecasts indicate that the food situation would not normalise before January 2005.
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) said that while Kenya's emergency food operations to January 2005 requires 156,000 metric tonnes, only about 80,000 metric tonnes of food has been pledged, largely by the Kenyan government, the US, Britain and Japan.
An estimated 2.
34 million persons in 26 arid and semi-arid districts, including 544,000 school children currently require emergency food aid.
"Out of a required $81.
3 million for emergency food operations, only $36.
6 million has been confirmed, leaving a shortfall in financial terms of 55 percent," FEWS said.
"The shortfall and the delay in sourcing food will worsen the food situation in the worst affected areas in coming months," FEWS noted in a report.
The findings by FEWS differ with the projections of Kenya Agriculture minister Kipruto Arap Kirwa, who said the famine situation would only last to November when the harvesting of the main maize crop begins.
Kirwa said Kenya would experience of shortfall of 4 million 90-kg bags of maize for up to November.
To cover the maize deficit, Kirwa said the government was importing 2 million bags of maize through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), while the private sector will import the remaining half.
Kirwa waived 25 per cent import duty on maize imports as a temporally measure.
"Our long term plans are to avail credit facilities to farmers in order to avoid a situation like this in future," said the minister.
Mutua Mundikwa, the public relations manager of the NCPB said the institution is also buying maize from the farmers to add up to the depleted national maize strategic reserves.
Mundikwa said NCPB "intends to achieve a target of approximately 2 million 90-kg bags of surplus marketable maize" at a relatively attractive price of Kshs 1,400 equivalent to US$17 for the 90-kg bag.
He could not confirm the amount that had already been purchased from farmers.
"We are encouraging farmers to deliver their maize to any NCPB depot so as to take advantage of this very attractive price," he said.
He said the main problem encountered by the NCPB while purchasing maize from farmers was the lack of quality produce, including poor moisture content, presence of foreign matter, rotten grains and insect infestation.
Kenya's agriculture production is highly dependent on rainfall and the failure of long rains in March to May season this year is the cause of the current famine, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Policy experts, however, fault government's agriculture policy, which they say does not protect the interests of small-scale farmers.
Dr Hezron Nyangito of the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) writes in a policy paper, for instance, that an analysis of maize prices in Kenya indicates they are inefficient and only favour consumers.
In the past, maize farmers have complained that the returns in maize sales per acreage in some seasons was far less than the amounts they invested.
An official at the Agricultural Information Centre, a department of the Ministry for Agriculture that educates farmers on effective use of farm inputs said the department was constrained by inadequate funding and shortage of technical staff.
The current famine is the worst to hit Kenya in recent times.
President Mwai Kibaki termed it a "national disaster" in July and appealed to the international community for food aid.
Ironically, the famine situation was worsened by an alleged sale of strategic maize reserves by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to Southern African countries in a transaction approved by the administration of the then President Daniel Arap Moi.
For now, the current government has taken the only available option of initiating effective distribution of relief food, which is having a positive impact on the ground, according to an official at the Ministry of Special Programmes at the Office of the President.
The official said the government had already distributed 43,156 metric tonnes of food to 26 of the worst affected districts during July and August and will continue through September and October until food supply returns to normal.
The World Food Programme (WFP) also began an emergency operation this month in 11 priority districts, including Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Kwale, Kilifi, Makueni, Kitui, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo and Tana River The 2002-2008 National Development Plan notes among the main factors affecting food security in Kenya, emphasis on quantity at the expense of quality, lack of an early warning system, inadequate strategic reserves, inadequate research, weak farmer institutions, insecurity in pastoral areas and lack of effective control of crop and livestock diseases.