Increasing resilience in the face of skyrocketing costs
31 Mar 2022
In the last few years Kenya has seen a 70 percent drop in crop production, with an estimated 3.1m people in acute hunger, now in need of aid. As a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the situation has worsened, with disruption to global supply chains causing the price of grains, oil, gas, and fertiliser to skyrocket.
Hand in Hand Eastern Africa CEO, Albert Wambugu, explains how the country’s poorest are bearing the brunt of the crisis – and how Hand in Hand is supporting its members on the ground.
Poor yields and food insecurity
“There are a number of reasons why crop production is falling overall in Kenya,” Albert explains. “Growing conditions here are extremely variable. You might have pockets where the land is fertile – and then areas where the soil quality is degraded, and rainfall is low.”
Maize is the country’s staple crop – but soil degradation and drought is affecting the ‘breadbasket’ regions where it is grown. Some of the commercial fertilisers used here are extremely acidic, and have damaged the soil. Albert says: “When the crops fail, people become reliant on food aid. Some families survive on as little as 2kg of maize a week,” Albert says.
Ukraine war causes price rises for staple goods
Because of the crisis in Ukraine, Kenyans are seeing price rises across the board. “The increasing price of fuel is very noticeable,” says Albert. “There’s been a 30% increase in less than one year.”
People in poverty spend a greater percentage of their income on food. For the very poorest, food price increases will result in adults skipping meals, or subsisting only on staples. “Cooking oil has doubled in price. When costs go up like this, the only thing people can focus on is putting food on the table. You would not be able to afford a balanced diet,” says Albert. “Protein from fish, for example, would be inconceivable.”
Cost of living increases can impact members’ enterprises too. Albert explains it’s almost impossible for people to prioritize saving when times are tough, or to spare the funds to invest money back into their businesses.
To combat the hunger crisis, Albert’s team provide training on a range of sustainable farming techniques that improve soil quality as well as increasing yields.
“We tell our members there will always be things outside your sphere of influence, like supply chain volatility and weather changes. But there are things you can do to offset these – like crop diversification, or by using fertiliser that improves the soil instead of harming it. When you don’t know when the next rainfall will be, even something as simple as a water storage butt makes a difference. We teach people to adapt to their environment. Root crops like arrowroot contain more starch than maize and are easier to grow, so it might be a question of changing your dietary habits.”
They also focus on improving members’ financial resilience.
“We train people to set aside some of their income where possible, because savings are an important way of mitigating the impact of financial shocks. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, and now with the Ukraine crisis, this is vital. More recently, we have introduced our members to insurance. Only 3% of Kenyans have insurance,” Albert explains. “So we are working with providers to create new financial products that meet our members’ specific needs”
The team also encourage people to save in self-help groups. “When self-help groups are strong they can lend when things aren’t going well and, unlike some banks, don’t charge exorbitant rates of interest.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, Albert believes that the team at Hand in Hand Eastern Africa will continue to make a difference to the women they work with – and alleviate food insecurity.
“By giving women the tools they need to lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty, we are able to strengthen their resilience so they can weather this global crisis.”
“The farmers we train will also have an important role to play in safeguarding food security within their communities, as well as restoring the soil so it remains productive for future generations.”