Authors: Boaz B. Keizire and Elizabeth Mwaniki – Policy and Advocacy Unit, AGRA

Rains have fallen short for the third time in a row in Mbeere South in Embu County, Kenya. Smallholder farmers are staring at drought and consequent food insecurity. Using early warning systems, scientists warned that the anticipated long rains will be below average, therefore inadequate to grow crops to maturity. Most crops withered in the farms, eroding farmers’ hopes of harvest and means of sustaining livelihoods.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Seven of the 23 Arid and Semi-Arid lands (ASAL) counties (Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu, Isiolo, Baringo and Turkana) remain in Alarm drought phase while nine including Garissa, Kilifi, Kitui, Kwale, Laikipia, Lamu, Meru (North), Nyeri (Kieni) and West Pokot are in Alert drought phase. The remaining seven counties (Kajiado, Narok, Makueni, Taita Taveta, Tharaka Nithi and Embu (Mbeere) and Tana River) are in normal drought phase.

While initiatives are already in place to support the communities that are affected by drought, there is need for development of strategies that provide long term solutions for the affected counties.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reports that severe drought affects Africa more than any other continent, with more than 300 events recorded in the past 100 years, accounting for 44 percent of the global total.

On the 17th of June every year, we mark the International Day Against Desertification and Drought. This year’s theme is “Rising up from drought together”, highlighting the need of an early action to avoid disastrous consequences for humanity and ecosystems. Everyone can participate in actions that increase the world’s collective resilience.

Why Policy?

Drought preparedness polices make a difference: This year’s theme, recommends that proactive measures to reduce risks and increase resilience of ecosystems and communitiescan be achieved through sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration policies. “A strong and deliberate policy has never failed to respond to any challenge, including drought” said Boaz B. Keizire, Head of Policy and Advocacy at AGRA during the discussions on the implications of drought in Africa.

To this end, AGRA is building on the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit to identify policy gaps in African countries, with an objective of driving enabling policy making processes and implementation.  During the deliberations by Heads of state, they identified food security and state capability policies as top priorities for African countries.

One of the actions identified by Kenya during the Food Systems Summit discussions is to advance equitable livelihoods by fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, facilitating a shift from predominantly subsistence farming mentality to a more profitable agriculture outlook. This will be achieved via commercialization of agriculture, ensuring access to markets through organized cooperatives and out grower groups, value addition, and harnessing the power of mobile technologies.

Initially, the Government of Kenya implemented guidelines on subsidized inputs such as fertilizers and seeds supporting over 200, 000 farmers. This year, subsidized fertilizers and seeds have cushioned farmers from high input prices of commodities precedented by inflation following economic impacts of COVID-19 and ongoing inflation. However, inadequate rains have led to marginal harvests in some of the counties.

To cushion farmers from the effects of climate and economic downturn, the Government needs to emphasize on wider participation of agriculture insurance for small holder farmers covering crops, livestock and fisheries.

Agriculture was part of Climate Change COP26 deliberations in Glasgow where twenty-six nations set out new commitments to change their agricultural policies to become more sustainable and less polluting, and to invest in the science needed for sustainable agriculture and for protecting food supplies against climate change, laid out in two ‘Action Agendas’.  Kenya was a participant at COP26 in Glasgow. While addressing the world at Glasgow, Kenya’s President, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta, said that Kenya has developed a plan to maintain low carbon development trajectory by 2030.

The President also announced Kenya’s plan to work with other African countries that form the ‘Giants Club’ conservation group to raise resources for investment in the continent’s climate change mitigation programmes. As the momentum is building for COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Kenya should adopt the Policy Action Agenda for the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture and prepare for the discussion on adaptation and loss of damage that will be on COP27 agenda. This could be achieved through support from AGRA’s Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA).

Recently, the Government launched the Agricultural Sector Institutional Capacity strengthening plan (ICSP) that was developed with the support of AGRA. The plan aims at boosting agricultural productivity and improving livelihoods by addressing systemic obstacles constraining Kenya’s ability to achieve food and nutrition security.