The winner of the Building Resilience in Agriculture blogging challenge lays out possible solutions to address climate change and looming food insecurity in Kenya
By Francis Wanjohi
As we move into 2018, the future of food security in Kenya looks bleak. Recurring climate change-induced droughts, floods, new diseases and the arrival of pests – such as the fall armyworm – have affected our food production so much in the past five years that we can no longer produce enough food to feed our nation.
Things have gotten so bad that in February 2017, the government declared hunger a national disaster, prompting the duty-free importation of maize.
Kenya depends on maize as a staple crop. It’s what feeds most of our families, pays for our kids to go to school and even see the doctor. Maize makes the difference between hunger and prosperity; the poor and the rich. It is common to hear people say they are going to work to look for ‘unga’ (maize flour).
This year 250,000 hectares of agricultural land – that’s over 11% of the country's maize crop – was destroyed with the arrival of two unknown biological enemies, the fall armyworm and Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND). The fall armyworm has affected cereal production in 27 out of 47 counties with damage reaching 100% in most farms. This has left over 3.4 million people without food and in desperate need of food aid.
Native to North and South America, many scientists believe the fall armyworm was able to run roughshod over huge portions of Africa in the wake of 2016 drought. It has now spread to more than 28 countries in Africa.
Sadly, it seems our staple happens to be a favourite meal for the fall armyworm and the viruses causing MLND. Since they affect the crop before it is ready for harvesting, farmers have watched helplessly as all their planted maize is consumed. Besides the yield losses, these farmers face hunger and hard economic times ahead, as they depend on farming for their livelihoods.
It is not easy to eliminate these pests and diseases. One thing is certain, we cannot just wish them away.
We therefore need to adapt and prepare for a future with more of these attacks. If we fail to plan to adapt to climate change, then we are planning to fail as a country.
We must therefore improve our resilience to hunger by diversifying our crop base; increasing our yield through use of technologies, storing surplus food using innovative post-harvest technologies, and investing in biotechnologies that will help us produce crops that are tolerant to drought, floods, pests and diseases.
All these can be carried out under climate change adaptation plans for agriculture. These measures will require serious concerted efforts and commitments by the Government of Kenya, development partners, research organizations and farmers.
The fall armyworm invasion could be compared to the locust plague in Egypt. We didn’t invite it to our door steps. While Kenya is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, we had very little contribution in creating it in the first place. What we need now are innovative solutions to the cold reality that if we don’t shape up now, and plan for the arrival of more pests, more droughts and more climate change-induced uncertainties, then we risk continued cycles of poverty and hunger.
About the author
Francis Wanjohi is the winner of the FAO-UNDP-UNITAR NAP-MOOC Blogging Challenge. Over 80 people took part in the challenge through the Building Climate Resilience in Agriculture MOOC. Mr. Wanjohi is the founder of GreenTech Kenya Ltd, a private company for promotion of green technologies in Kenya. He is also the chairman of Agricultural Biotechnology Awareness Association (ABAA), an organization that carries out public education about biotechnology information in Kenya. He holds a master’s degree in Agricultural Biotechnology from Szent Istvan University. He works as a part time lecturer at Machakos University and also drives Uber and Taxify cabs to earn income to feed his family, get start-up capital for his GreenTech business and contribute to ABAA’s activities. Francis was a high school teacher for 5 years before resigning to further his studies in Hungary. His mission is to end food insecurity in Kenya and Africa at large, one step at a time.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, FAO, UNITAR, donor agencies, or the UN Member States. View full disclaimer.