- 2011 drought in Horn of Africa affected 3.7 million Kenyans
- World Bank research paper outlines policy proposals for dealing with food shortages
- Stronger social protection programs and trade reform needed to mitigate future crises
WASHINGTON, December 16, 2011 – In the past year, the Horn of Africa has been the epicenter of Africa’s worst food crisis in two decades. Eastern and Northern Kenya is home to some of the poorest and hardest-hit communities.
World Bank economists working in Kenya say broad policy changes are needed to reduce the nation's vulnerability to future drought as climate change continues to reduce rainfall in the region.
In a recent policy paper, Gabriel Demonbynes and Jane Kiringai, senior economists at the Bank’s Nairobi office, suggest four steps the country can take to protect itself from future food shocks:
- Direct more policies and services to people in arid and semi-arid lands, such as education and healthcare
- Reform Kenya’s maize policies to reduce historically high prices
- Revise trade policies to ease the flow of grains to the market
- Strengthen social safety nets to assist people in need
“The substantial drought this year was of concern to policymakers in Kenya and we have people in government expressing an interest in getting the World Bank’s view on what could be done to minimize the impact of future drought,” Demonbynes said. “Our report was also produced to engage a broader Kenya public. Our intent here is not to tell the government what to do, but to stimulate a discussion.”
To read The Drought and Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Impacts and Proposed Policy Responses for Kenya, click here .
In all, more than 3.7 million people in Kenya were affected by the 2011 drought.
Distortions in Kenya’s agriculture and trade policies compounded the impact of the food crisis. Import duties on grains have contributed to a chronic food deficit and the duties are only suspended on an ad hoc, informal basis during a time of crisis, the paper says.
Our intent here is not to tell the government what to do, but to stimulate a discussion.
Adding to the problem is the East African Community Customs Union’s export ban on cereals, and national Kenya policies that keep food prices in the country artificially high.
“Trade reform remains a gray area, not just in Kenya but in the larger customs union,” Kiringai noted. “Non-tariff barriers to trade are persistent and remain contentious between the member states.”
In areas where people depend on livestock for their subsistence, adjusting trade and food policies may not be enough even if the political will existed, however. During the recent drought, livestock deaths rose by up to 15 percent, wiping out 5 percent of Kenya’s livestock population and the livelihood for thousands of families.
The pastoral lifestyle in the Horn of Africa makes people living there particularly vulnerable to drought and the impact of climate change, Kiringai said.
The World Bank is now working with the Kenyan government to integrate several fragmented social protection programs to better serve people who lost their income and food supply.
Of the proposals made in the recent report, strengthening safety-nets is the measure most likely to move forward in the short term – including cash transfers to families in need, Demonbynes said.
Media events and a public forum in Nairobi helped build publicity for the report and feedback has been good from people inside as well as outside the Kenyan government, the economists said.