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Kenya urged to rethink food production

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 17- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Tuesday said Kenya needed to reorganise its agricultural production system to revert the recurring food crises.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said it was urgent for the country to feed its population even in future when there would be a huge population.

Speaking at the release of a new report titled ‘The Environmental Food Crisis’, he said the size of land available per person in the country had significantly reduced hence the need to rethink how agricultural production systems could be developed.

“I think the longer term challenge Kenya faces is in a country where the population is now at 38 million and projected to be 51 million by 2025, how do you continue to increase agricultural and food production when the per capita ratio of land available to each Kenyan citizen has gone down from 9.6 ha in 1950 to 1.7 ha in 2005?” he posed.

Among the key suggestions in the report is removal of agricultural subsidies and promotion of biofuels based on wastes rather than on primary crops to reduce pressure on fertile lands and important ecosystems like forests.

“It is imperative that countries like Kenya do not take the shortest route to continue increasing production simply from a tonnage point of view. That means not only rethinking the investment in their agricultural production system but also the ecosystems that sustain them,” Mr Steiner added.

He said although there were a number of suggestions in increasing food production that included use of hybrid seeds, fertiliser, irrigation or Genetically Modified Organisms, the food situation remained a complex issue.

“The first message is that there is no silver bullet to this,” he said.

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“If we are going to feed close to nine billion people in this planet at a time when our agricultural systems are already depleting our very ecosystems that actually sustain us and when environment degradation including climate change becomes an additional part to the system that could take 25 percent of today’s production we have a serious problem in our planet,” the UNEP boss remarked.

The report also stated that unless more intelligent and creative management was brought to the world’s agricultural systems, the 2008 food crisis which plunged millions into hunger could overshadow an even bigger crisis in future.

The report indicated that up to 25 percent of the worlds food production could be lost due to environmental breakdowns by 2050 unless action was taken.

“Already cereals yields have stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining,” the report states in part.

“Over one third of the worlds cereals are today being used as animal feed and continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation,” it further said.

The Rapid Response Team Leader at UNEP, Christian Nelle suggested that recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies aimed at producing biofuels to produce sugar from discards such as straw and nutshells could be a key alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock.

Kenya is currently grappling with a severe food shortage following three failed rain seasons and more than 10 million people are in dire need of food aid.

In a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the government reviewed the food situation in the country and re-affirmed the need to adhere to the approved food importation quantities and schedules to ensure that the country does not run out of food.

The meeting chaired by President Mwai Kibaki at State House Nairobi, requested the Minister of Finance to prepare a detailed program and schedule on targeted food subsidies for consideration at the next cabinet meeting.

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 Parliament would also be required to debate and approve the subsidies.

Tuesday’s meeting also underscored the need to ensure maximum transparency in the subsidy program and food distribution exercise especially in the wake of a multi million maize scandal.

A censure motion against Agriculture Minister William Ruto who was implicated in the scandal is expected to be debated in Parliament on Wednesday.


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