My Apathy towards Galana/Kulalu Irrigation Project

Uhuru_Farming_400239306

President Kenyatta during launch of the irrigation project

Source: http://jamhurimagazine.com

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.

four_pillars_of_food_security

Source: http://www.newsustainabilityinc.com/2014/01/14/can-rural-agriculture-solve-global-food-insecurity/

These pillars, along with dimensions such as vulnerability and shocks are adequately used as indicators of food security as shown below

Food Security Indicators

Click for a larger view

Source: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ESS_FSN_Indicator_1

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.

 

malnutrition causes

Source: http://www.foodsecurity.gov.kh/conceptual-framework-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.

 

 

 

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2013: Year in Review

It is that time of the year when we must take stock of the year passed and measure our hopes for the New Year. 2013 was without a doubt a year of pivotal events, especially in my homeland Kenya. We had a peaceful general election in March- the first under the new constitution. We celebrated 50 years of independence hence joining a throng of other African nations that have achieved the same in the recent past. However, in spite of these positive developments, Kenya and other African nations are still bedevilled by hunger, corruption, disease, ill-governance, conflict and poverty.  This is reflected in the global reports of 2013. I will elaborate on some that focus on hunger.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013

The GHI measures and tracks hunger globally and by region and country. It is computed by the international Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and employs three main indicators i.e. undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. In 2013, the worst performing regions were South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.  South Asia had the highest GHI score and this was attributed to social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women.

The Sahel region was noted to be prone to hunger due to a number of factors. These included sporadic rainfall, locust infestation, crop shortages, and high and volatile food prices. These affected the food and nutrition security of the region negatively. Furthermore, conflict in countries such as Mali and Northern Nigeria exacerbated the situation. However, despite this grim picture, Ghana stood tall as it was among the top ten best performers in terms of improving her GHI score since 1990. It goes without saying that Ghana is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Studies have proved there is a very strong positive association between democracy and food and nutrition security. Perhaps this is why Ghana attracts an even rosier review in The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013. However, I am anticipating. We will come to that later.

Some countries exhibited significant increases in their GHI scores, the worst performers, all of them in Africa, are Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea. The report attributes increased hunger in Burundi and Comoros since 1990 to prolonged conflict and political instability.

The following are excerpts of what the report says of some African countries:

  • The three countries with extremely alarming 2013 GHI scores—Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea— are in Africa south of the Sahara.
  • Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea currently have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 60 percent of the population
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population of more than 60 million, still appears as a grey area on the map because reliable data on undernourishment are lacking and the level of hunger cannot be assessed- High-quality data for the Democratic Republic of Congo, as for other likely hunger hot spots such as (Afghanistan) and Somalia, are badly needed.
  • Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from approximately 18 to about 19 %.
  • The HIV and AIDS epidemic, along with high income inequality, has severely undermined food security in Swaziland despite growth in national income. Because of drought, more than one-quarter of the population depended on emergency food aid in 2006–2007, and the country’s GDP per capita declined between 2007 and 2010. High unemployment, overgrazing, soil depletion, and the risk of future droughts and floods pose persistent challenges.

 

The State of Food Insecurity in the World; the multiple dimensions of food security, 2013

This annual report communicates progress made towards achieving the 2001 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Hunger i.e. halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population and the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit(WFS) goal on hunger i.e. halve the number of hungry people. It should be noted that both goals have 1990 as the starting year and 2015 as the target year. However, the WFS goal is harder to achieve because of the high rates of population growth in many hunger-affected countries. The report estimated that to meet the WFS target, the number of hungry people in developing regions would have to be reduced to 498 million by 2015, a goal that is out of reach at the global level.

In 2011-2013, 842 million people i.e. 12 % of the total world’s population were unable to meet their dietary requirements. This means that one in eight people were likely to have suffered from chronic hunger.

Africa remained the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (on in four people) within which the sub-Saharan region had the highest (24.8%) prevalence of undernourishment.  The report concludes that Africa is not on track to achieve the MDG hunger target. Nonetheless, Ghana goes against the grain. It had met its 2015 MDG hunger target by 2000–02. By 2011-2013, less than 5 % of its population were undernourished. It was also well on track to meet its MDG poverty target before 2015. This impressive record in a region not known to post such is attributed to a robust economic growth (its GDP grew by an average of 4.5% a year since 1983 and by an impressive 14 % in 2011), market reforms and favourable terms of trade and investment climate. However, all this would not be possible without the peace and political stability that Ghana enjoys. In fact, I dare say, this is the impetus that fuelled Ghana to meeting the MDG hunger target by 2000-02.

In stark contrast to Ghana, Uganda records a dismal performance on its progress to meet the MDG hunger target. Firstly, the prevalence of undernourishment has been increasing since the early 2000. This is attributed to discordance between food production and population growth. Uganda has an annual population growth of 3.2%, one of the highest in the world. This rate combined with a declining food production per capita, unequal distribution and access to food have rendered one third of Uganda’s population to be chronically undernourished.

Conclusion

African countries performance in regard to ending hunger leaves a lot to be desired. While the continent boasts of having the largest tracts of unused arable land, it also holds the unenviable title of the continent with the highest number of hungry people. Much has been said of this discrepancy and quite a number of recommendations have been suggested. Despite of all these efforts, the changes over the years do not merit the investment made into bringing about those changes. As we measure the hopes that we have for the New Year, it is my sincere hope that we see much more political commitments made towards ending hunger globally and especially in Africa. It is also my sincere desire that we witness significant changes in the indicators of hunger in the foreseeable future. Perhaps approaching the year 2015, measuring of progress made towards MDGs and post-2015 development agenda will fuel efforts towards eliminating hunger. Meanwhile, remarks made by José Graziano da Silva (FAO Director-General), Kanayo F. Nwanze( IFAD President) and Ertharin Cousin (WFP Executive Director) in the foreword to The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013 ring ever so true…

“Ultimately, political stability, effective governance and, most importantly, uninterrupted long- term commitments to mainstreaming food security and nutrition in policies and programmes are key to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition”

NB: A more concise review of 2013 can be found at http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/2013/12/happy-new-year-a-look-back-at-2013.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Hunger-undernutritionBlog+%28Hunger-Undernutrition+Blog%29

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