Read full article By Anne Mwale @Kenya News Agency Photo: ICRISAT
The County government of Nakuru has launched an Agricultural Enterprises Support Programme targeted at ensuring production of staple food crops such as maize, wheat and vegetables was not interrupted following the outbreak of coronavirus.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui expressed fears that the Covid-19 health crisis could later trigger an acute food and nutritional crisis if measures were not in place to cushion the country ahead of the post coronavirus period.
It was imperative that as a country, he noted, Kenya puts several measures to ensure food production continues and that food security for all citizens in ensured.
“The coronavirus epidemic will definitely put a strain on our agricultural sector which is already suffering from the desert locust invasion in parts of the country. We want to create a fund that will ensure that production of staple food crops is not affected in the county and that farmers do not abandon agricultural activities. If intervention measures are not put in place, the impact on food and nutrition security could be grave particularly for vulnerable populations including children, women, the elderly, and the poor.
The last Ebola epidemic outbreak led to abandonment of agricultural activities and reduced fertilizer use in West Africa. When Ebola began to hit Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2014, domestic rice prices increased by over 30 per cent while the price of cassava, a major staple in Liberia, shot up by 150 per cent. This must not be allowed to replicate in Kenya” explained the governor.
The Agricultural Enterprises Support Programme is targeting to encourage food crop growers do not abandon their farms and get financial support in acquiring farm inputs and planting materials during the current season.
“Nakuru is one of the country’s major food baskets. In the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, my administration is working with all the stakeholders in the National government, private sector and well-wishers to offer financial support to farmers so as they do not deplete their credit.
This, in the long term, will not only help reduce financial costs but will also ensure planting season proceeds without interruptions. We are also in talks with the national government with a view of considering temporary subsidies for farmers during this period,” said Kinyanjui.
The County Government has already launched a Sh 250 million food support programme kitty for families whose breadwinners have lost their employment due to adverse economic effects posed by spread of coronavirus in the region.
According to official statistics from the devolved unit’s administration more than 70,000 jobs had been lost in Naivasha Sub-County following closure of Horticultural firms after exports of flowers, fruits and vegetables were halted and international flights suspended in the wake of the pandemic.
A further 50,000 people in Njoro, Subukia and Rongai Sub-Counties who directly depended on export of cut flowers and agricultural produce had lost their source of incomes.
The County boss revealed that over 4,000 employees working in the Tourism and Hospitality Sector in Nakuru had been rendered jobless following closure of hotels and restricted travel regulations by key countries where visitors to tourist attraction sites originated from.
The Agricultural Enterprises Support Programme will also promote adoption by small holder farmers of improved seed varieties of climate smart crops such as sorghum, sweet potatoes vines, cassava, finger millet, pigeon pea and traditional cereals such as groundnuts.
The outbreak, he noted, may affect food supply in the market as most entrepreneurs fetch the fresh commodities from the farms.
“It will lead to food wastage as farmers and consumers are going to get scared of going to the market places to avoid crowded places. Fresh vegetables and fruits will not reach the market leading to loses.
Coronavirus is posing a serious threat to livelihoods and if not mitigated many nations risk facing serious food shortages. One of the immediate impacts we have noted is declining agricultural productivity and reduced investments in agriculture due to fear and anxiety mostly precipitated by misinformation and misleading myths about the virus” noted Kinyanjui.
However, according to the latest update by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, currently, there is no noticeable impact on food production worldwide following outbreak and global spread of Covid-19. The report states that global cereal prospects for the year 2020 remain favourable.
However, it raises a red flag over reduced access to animal feeds and diminished capacity of slaughterhouses worldwide due to labour shortages and restricted transportation systems.
The FAO report also warns that transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ access to input and output markets, curbing productive capacities and denying a point of sale for farm produce.
“Shortages of labour could disrupt production and processing of food, particularly for labor-intensive crops while fresh food supply chains may be disrupted due to blockages to transport routes resulting in increased levels of food loss and waste” concludes the report.
The Agricultural Enterprises Support Programme according to the County boss will closely monitor prices and strengthen market supervision across the region.
The entity, he said, will work closely with the private sector, farmer organizations and cooperatives to ensure that farm inputs are available to farmers at affordable prices and act firmly to ensure traders do not take advantage of the situation to hike prices of fertilizers, seeds and pesticides which can affect crop production.
It will also bring on a roundtable all stakeholders in the agricultural sector to start exploring ways to move the sector forward towards more sustainable farming practices.
Transparent market information he said will enhance both levels of governments’ overall management of food market, while quality supervision of processed food products was key to maintaining food safety and quality.
“Past experience shows that the effects of food and nutrition insecurity sparked off by such pandemics disproportionately hit on vulnerable populations including children, pregnant women, elderly, malnourished persons and people whose immunity is compromised.
Our strategy is to ensure that such groups get adequate, safe and balanced diets as one of the ways of fighting Covid-19 while promoting health status of individuals” noted Kinyanjui.