Food aid is not a solution to unga crisis

A vessel carrying duty-free maize from Mexico at the port of Mombasa

For decades, food aid has been the used as the panacea for human suffering in Africa.

Kenya has on several occasions requested for food aid from the international community to address acute and chronic food insecurity. Most recently, the government of Kenya declared the drought a national disaster, noting that about 2.4 million Kenyans need urgent help.

But given the drastic shortage of maize and the crippling price of unga, it is time for the government to rethink its strategy in ensuring that each Kenyan sleeps with a full belly.

Operating from this signal, several county governments, politicians and numerous civil society actors initiated food aid programmes in different parts of the country. In Luanda constituency, for instance, a politician undertook what he ‘christened’ a feeding programme for schools and ended up distributing relief maize at the community level.

However, in a world in which nearly half the population survives on a dollar a day or less, and where more than 800 million people go to sleep hungry any given night, and a child dies every five seconds due to hunger-related causes, the need to respond to the poor’s need for food is ever-present and widespread.

The world today is increasingly debating whether this form of relief food aid is anything effective in addressing challenges of food insecurity and long term sustainable development. This debate is critical since world over, longterm effects and the unintended consequences of such programmes have largely been pointed to result in dependency and destitution.

Development scholars have observed that negative dependency typically arises when individuals, households or communities alter their behaviour in response to the provision of assistance that unwittingly creates disincentives to undertake desirable behaviour.

In the longterm community safety nets, commitment to work and other production systems are undermined. In western Kenya, where adequate rain is experienced and farming still remains a viable venture, politicians and other policy makers must reconfigure the community thinking and steer the people towards more sustainable measures of assuring food security and long term community development.

Each county must be supported to direct efforts towards empowering its local farmers through access to locally based extension and farmer to farmer learning groups. These farmers need linkages to local agricultural learning opportunities provided by expert centres at local levels.

Farmers need access to low cost agricultural input secured by government and other local agricultural cooperatives that can support longterm farmer development for increased production while at the same time working towards opening market opportunities.

Additionally, value addition in agriculture and development of small agricultural industries including fish and food industries will propel our local areas to food security.

Lastly, agricultural development must be repositioned as a modern attractive venture that can absorb thousands of young people in our rural communities, and that the young people should provide the fulcrum around which new market oriented agricultural activities can be organized. In order to achieve this, the young people must be accorded access to credit for agri-business opportunity development.

Leaders must focus on these long term agricultural interventions for food security and sustainable development and not the catastrophic, short term dependency enhancing food aid.

Albert Obbuyi is a health and rural development expert based in Nairobi

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