Monday, August 08, 2011

Hunger amid Plenty

Harvests are going to waste in parts of Rift Valley province, Kenya's grain basket, even though severe drought ravages the country's northern regions. 3.7 million Kenyans need life-saving assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs . High malnutrition rates, up to 37.4 percent, have been recorded in parts of Turkana, also in the Rift Valley.

In southern Rift Valley, farmers are struggling to offload surplus vegetable harvests while maize farmers in other parts of the province are having difficulty accessing markets for their new harvests.

"Sometimes I have been forced to feed cabbages to my cows; it is painful to watch as produce goes to waste," John Kariuki, a farmer in Njoro's Deffo area in the Rift Valley, told IRIN. Kariuki estimates that he spent KSh8,000 (US$92) on cultivation and input costs for his 0.8ha but is now faced with the prospect of losses. "I don't care how much someone will pay for this cabbage, all I want is some income from it," he said.

Part of the problem is the lack of food preservation facilities to ensure such surplus fresh produce does not go to waste. "A policy on food preservation was needed in Kenya yesterday; it is unfortunate that it may take time to get it and get it implemented," said Leah Nakhone, a former director at the Crop Management Research Training Project and a soil scientist at Egerton University, Njoro. Potatoes could be preserved as chips, packed, refrigerated, then sold or distributed, while vegetables could be dried and distributed to the hungry, said Nakhone.

At present, a 110kg bag of potatoes is selling for between KSh700 ($8) and KSh1,000 ($11.50), against KSh5,000 ($57.50) in February and March in Njoro. Only farmers near the main highways are able to sell their produce even at these low prices, with those farther inland resigned to watching their harvests go to waste. "I have seen other farmers watch their produce rot in the farms for lack of a market," said Lucy Biwott, a Njoro farmer, who harvested 16 bags of Irish potatoes from the family's 1.2ha field. "I wonder where the hungry people are, how I wish I would transport to them some of these potatoes."

The contradictions of the capitalist system! So, yet again, as in every “food crisis” the workings of capitalism have produced the obscene spectacle of hunger in the midst of plenty.

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