Agriculture / Drought / East Africa / Food Security / USA / Vulnerability

Feast and famine in Kenya: The real emergency is lack of aid to help farmers produce more food–Roger Thurow

Landscape of Kenya

Landscape of Kenya (photo on Flickr by Tim Cronin/Center for International Forestry Research).

Former Wall Street Journal veteran reporter Roger Thurow, now senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, last Friday (29 Jul 2011) described the paradox of great harvest and great hunger existing at the same time in Kenya, a country he often visits and reports on.

‘Two scenes from the great African paradox of surplus and shortage—feast and famine—in the same country:

‘In rural western Kenya, farmer Crispinus Walubengo harvests a bumper crop of maize. He is expecting a half-acre yield greater than the thirteen 90-kilogram bags he reaped last year, which had been his biggest-ever harvest.

‘In the port of Mombasa, on Kenya’s east coast, a crane offloads thousands of tons of maize imported from Malawi. That maize would soon be heading to drought-ravaged northern and eastern parts of Kenya where hundreds of thousands of people are desperately hungry.

‘If any sense would come from this paradox, farmer Walubengo would be entertaining buyers from the Kenyan government or international relief agencies flocking to purchase his harvest to feed the hungry. They would come bearing a pile of cash to buy at the country’s current historically high maize price. It would be a rare win for Kenya’s smallholder farmers, and help Walubengo achieve his post-harvest goal of buying a top producing dairy cow.

‘So far, though, no one has knocked on the wooden door of his mud-brick house and no one likely will. Instead, imports and food aid continue to stream into the country and the greater Horn of Africa region. . . .

‘In Kenya, the WFP [World Food Program] is feeding 1.6 million people and the government of Kenya 800,000. The number needing food assistance is expected to rise to more than 3 million by mid-August.

‘This emergency relief will undoubtedly save countless lives. But another emergency afflicting Kenya, the Horn and all of Africa is the lack of agriculture development aid to help farmers produce more food so the countries wouldn’t be in need of food aid in the first place. In contrast to the rush of emergency food aid, there is a decided lack of urgency in providing the emergency agriculture development aid. . . .

‘Despite such successes, agriculture development has been so woefully neglected. And so, in the Kenyan breadbasket regions of the Rift Valley and Western provinces, farmers faced a seed shortage when planting season arrived in March. Farmers wanting to grow as much as possible were stymied by the underdevelopment of the country’s seed industry. Incredibly, many of them left fields fallow—at a time when drought and hunger were spreading in other parts of Kenya. . . .’

Read the whole article, Harvest and hunger, 29 Jul 2011, in the ‘Outrage and Inspire’ weekly column written by Roger Thurow, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and editor of the ‘Global Food for Thought’ blog of the Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative.

Thurow started this column in January 2010, inspired, he said to stop famines from happening. Here is what Thurow said then:

My own outrage was sparked by the Ethiopian famine of 2003, when 14 million people were on the doorstep of starvation. The markets had failed before the weather did, sapping farmer incentive. The years of neglect of agriculture development spending were made cruelly manifest. The uneven plowing fields in global agriculture trade had tilted, once again, to famine. The starving didn’t have to happen. On my first day in Addis Ababa in 2003, Volli Carucci of the World Food Program gave me this piece of advice, a warning of sorts: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.” A disease of the soul. Now that’s one infection we need to spread far and wide.  It has led me to personally take up the New Decade’s Resolution. After 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, I began 2010 committed to raising the clamor on hunger. My new perch at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs as senior fellow of global agriculture and food policy provides the opportunity to write and speak from a variety of platforms about hunger and the rising movement to spark an agriculture transformation. It is our ambition that this blog, Global Food for Thought, and this inaugural column will outrage and inspire and amplify the clamor. For nobody should have to die of hunger.

About the Global Agricultural Development Initiative
A number of policy developments indicate a shift in thinking about how the United States can best leverage its resources to address global poverty alleviation: President Obama called for a doubling of U.S. support for agricultural development in 2010 at the G-20 summit in April; the G-8 announced in July a new $20 billion multinational food security initiative; both the House and Senate are considering legislation to enhance support for agricultural productivity; and Secretaries Clinton and Vilsack are launching a multi-year plan to advance global food security. The Global Agricultural Development Initiative, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is housed within The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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