I shudder every time I hear food insecurity and Galana/Kulalu mentioned in the same breath. For those not in the know, Galana/Kulalu is the new irrigation project in Kenya. During the campaigning period, Jubilee coalition promised to put one million acres under irrigation. This was seen as the silver bullet needed to stem increasing levels of food insecurity in the country. This, among other significant promises such as one laptop for every standard one pupil, saw the Jubilee coalition win the elections albeit with accusations of malpractice by the main opposition, CORD coalition. Now the Jubilee government has hit the ground running. And Galana/Kulalu irrigation scheme is one of its pet projects. A few details of the project are in order.
Firstly, how are the million acres divided between the various crops of food security concern?
- 500,000 acres to grow maize and other rotational crops i.e. beans, sorghum…
- 200,000 acres, sugarcane
- 150,000 acres, beef and game animals and finishing
- 50,000 acres, Horticulture production including potatoes, groundnuts, etc
- 50,000 acres, dairy animals and value added products
- 50,000 acres, orchards, mangoes, guavas, etc
Well, it is no surprise that maize takes the lion share. According to the latest government reports on the country’s food security, we have a shortfall of 10 million bags of maize (Food security in Kenya is equated to maize availability). This deficit should begin to bite in May, 2014. Considering that the first crop in Galana/Kulalu was expected to be planted in March, this shortfall cannot be met by the project. Hence, come May the government would be forced to remove duty on maize thus allowing for its cheap importation. Enter maize cartels, connected individuals and the politician out to make a kill and you have all the hallmarks of a scandal in the making. It is this that makes a good majority of the citizenry doubt the government’s figures on actual number of bags shortfall. Furthermore, if I have my intelligence correct, the Galana/Kulalu project would be leased out to potential individuals/organisations to grow the crops on behalf of the government. Going by how recent contracts have been handled, I am not quite sure that the irrigation project would not attract its fair share of political shenanigans. However, there are much more fundamental issues that make me sceptical of the project altogether.
To begin with, Galana/Kulalu straddles the Tana River and Kilifi Counties of the Coastal region of Kenya. The area is predominantly semi-arid except for the eastern edge which receives annual mean rainfall of 625mm. The rest of the area receives approximately 250mm of rainfall annually. Furthermore, the area sits at an average altitude of 270m above sea level. Soils in the area are mostly sandy loams although some parts have red clay and black cotton soils. Considering that half of project area would be allocated to maize production, it is prudent to consider the basic requirements for growing of maize. Maize requires copious amounts of water (500-800mm). This would not be a problem since water can easily be sourced from Galana/Sabaki river or alternatively from River Tana. Despite maize doing well in various soils, it does not do so much well in sandy soils and it is prone to water logging. Hence, great care would be required during irrigation especially during flowering and yield formation periods. Water logging during flowering can reduce grain yields by 50 percent or more. All in all, let us suppose, for argument’s sake that yields in Galana/Kulalu would be slightly lower than Trans Nzoia’s (20-30 bags/ acre) which is Kenya’s maize basket. Never mind that this has greatly reduced in recent times due to increasing soil acidity. Suppose that an optimistic view of Galana/Kulalu is taken, say 15-20 bags/acre. This would give a yield of 7.5-10 million bags tops. Suppose that 5% of this yield is lost post-harvest (substantial maize losses in semi-arid environments range from 10-20%, 5-10% and 0-5% due to pest, poor storage and disease respectively) we are looking at 7.125-9.5 million bags. This leaves a minimum shortfall of 500,000 bags only. Not bad, one might say. Nonetheless, the “ifs” are too big to ignore.
Secondly, it is crucial to consider the complexity and various facets of food security as captured in the 2009 World Summit on Food Security: “ Food Security exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Four pillars of food security have been identified. These are Food Availability, Food Access, Food Stability and Food Utilisation.
These pillars, along with dimensions such as vulnerability and shocks are adequately used as indicators of food security as shown below
Judging from the definition and suite of indicators of food security, it is quite evident that much emphasis is being put on availability at the expense of other pillars such as physical access and utilisation. All you have to consider is the state of the roads and networks, access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities, as well as availability of thriving markets and you will find that areas lacking in such are notorious for cases of acute food insecurity even when other parts of the country enjoy bountiful harvests.
The above scenario is corroborated by UNICEF’s conceptual framework on the causes of malnutrition.
It is appreciated that inadequate dietary intake and disease are the immediate causes of malnutrition. However, the basic causes of malnutrition are political, economic, social and cultural structures. Hence, any endeavour to prevent malnutrition by addressing its immediate or underlying causes without giving adequate attention to its basic causes is treating the symptom rather than the cause of the disease. The areas notorious for food insecurity are the very same that have been politically, economically and socially marginalised since colonial times. They have been least represented in national governance, denied equal opportunities of pursuing education, least empowered to grow economically and continually denied their political freedom to air their grievances. This chronic marginalisation has been made evident through glaring inequalities, cries for secession and of course, chronic food insecurity. Unless they are resolved, efforts such as Galana/Kulalu irrigation project, no matter how noble the intentions behind them, will be gone with the wind.