Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Agriculture Willy Bett says so far 1.3 million people in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are experiencing food shortages but assures that Kenya’s food situation remain stable although high poverty levels and infrastructure constraints are inhibiting access to food for some.

Speaking at his Kilimo House office here Wednesday, Bett said poor rains in the country’s Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL), coupled with poor agricultural practices carried out by mainly smallholder farmers, had aggravated fthe ood shortage situation in parts of the country.

“However, I wish to assure Kenyans that he overall food security situation in the country is stable for now,” said Bett, who added: “High poverty levels, low purchasing power and poor infrastructure between the producer areas and the demand areas are compounding the food situation in the country.”

Bett said the government would endeavour to maintain the cost of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour at 100 shillings (just less than one US dollars) in order to ensure affordability among the majority of Kenyans.

Currently, maize stocks in the country stand at 9.5 million bags while the maize consumption in Kenya is 3.2 million bags per month with annual consumption at 40 million bags. The strategic grain reserves have fallen to 731,000 bags of maize, along with cash enough to purchase two million bags.

Bett said the government intended to purchase maize from the country’s main production areas at 2,300 shillings per 90-kg bag to boost the strategic grain reserves. Other stocks in the grain reserves include 1.2 million bags of beans, 2.3 million bags of wheat and 1.0 million bags of rice.

At the same time, a livestock off-take programme is set to begin in livestock rearing areas. According to Bett these areas have negatively impacted on crop production, pasture, water and livestock conditions.

“As a resultm most of the 23 ASAL areas, including Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu and Tana River, are experiencing a drought,” said Bett. “Other areas are Makueni, Kitui, Meru, Samburu and Kajiado.”

The Ministry has also put in place measures to import sufficient stocks of fertilizer in readiness for the long rains season next year when planting of crops will take place.

Bett said poor crop husbandry in maize producing areas, uncontrolled fragmentation of land and uneconomic units of land which do not allow for mechanization have contributed to the increasing cost of maize production at the household level, a situation which is compounded by climate change.

Meanwhile, the head of forecasting at the Kenya Meteorological Service, Samuel Mwangi, says the food situation has been worsened because of poor rains in May, June and July which is the planting season in the coastal areas of Kilifi County, Kwale, Tana River, and the former North East province which are experiencing a stress in pasture for livestock.