Kenya has a “serious” hunger problem and is not on track to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal related to undernutrition, according to the 2011 Global Hunger Index on October 11.
The report released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), ranks Kenya as having one of the highest Global Hunger Index (GHI) in East Africa at 50 with Tanzania at 58 while Uganda is relatively more food secure at 42.
The index is based on three indicators – proportion of people who are undernourished; proportion of children under five years who are underweight and under-five child mortality rate, with an increase in country’s GHI score indicating that hunger is worsening while a decrease indicates an improvement.
The 2011 GHI, calculated for 122 developing countries and which reflects data from 2004 to 2009, states that between January and May 2011, admissions to hospitals and community centres in Kenya’s capital Nairobi for treatment of severe acute malnutrition in young children increased by 62 per cent.
It further adds that Kenya’s poor families spend between 40 to 60 per cent of their household incomes on food, with even minor fluctuations in food prices having major impacts on household consumption and wellbeing.
The report comes at a time when Kenya’s inflation rate stands at 17.32 per cent for September with the Kenya shilling steadily losing value to the US dollar and exchanging at Ksh 104.
“Between February 2010 and May 2011 in Kenya, month-to-month price changes at the national wholesale level ranged from zero to 20 per cent for maize and zero to 42 per cent for beans,” states the report titled “The Challenge of Hunger: Taming Price Spikes and Excessive Food Price Volatility.”
While launching the report in Nairobi, Nicholas Minot, IFPRI’s senior research fellow in charge of markets, trade and institutions said that even though Kenya is ranked 50 among the states featured in the study, this rate is relatively low by sub-Saharan Africa standards.
South Asia (22.6) and sub-Saharan Africa (20.5) have the highest hunger levels globally, with sub-Saharan Africa hosting all the countries ranked as having “extremely alarming” levels of hunger – Burundi; Chad; Congo DRC and Eritrea.
“Out of the six countries in which the hunger situation actually worsened, the DRC stands out; its GHI score rose by about 63 per cent due to conflict and political instability. The DRC has the highest proportion of undernourished people- about 70 per cent of the population,” notes the report, adding that more than 50 per cent of the population is also undernourished in Burundi and Eritrea.
Of all the countries in the 2011 GHI, Gabon had the lowest score and therefore the lowest level of hunger while Ghana is ranked among the top 10 countries that most improved their scores since 1990 as it improved by 59 per cent.
Overall, sub-Saharan Africa’s GHI score fell by 18 per cent compared with the 1990 score while the global score fell by 26 per cent compared to 1990, with the score reducing from 19.7 per cent to 14.6 per cent.
It attributes the high food prices to various factors. These include growing demand for biofuels; extreme weather and climate change; low levels of grain reserves, export markets for staple commodities that are highly concentrated in a few countries and lack of timely, accurate information on food production, stock levels and price forecasting, which can lead to overreaction by policymakers and soaring prices.
To address tame the situation, it recommends tackling global market characteristics affecting volatility, including building up stocks by coordinating international food reserves and sharing information on food markets.
“There is need to reduce or eliminate subsidies on biofuel production; establish multilateral rules to limit export of food crops; promote private grain storage and emergency reserves and diversify staple food diets,” said Minot.