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December 30, 2010

Changing Kenyan diet boosts food security

Kenyans have changed their eating habits and consume more food other than the usual maize staple, driving up food security in the country, a senior Ministry of Agriculture official said on December 23.

Key staple foods such as maize and wheat have previously been hit hard by high prices following shortages after bad weather conditions or diseases.

"We have seen people panic when there is low maize supply...people hoard, prices go up... when in fact there are other foods that can supplement," said Wilson Songa, agriculture secretary in the ministry.

He said Kenyans have shifted to Irish potatoes, which is the second most consumed food, and indigenous vegetables such as amaranth, bananas and fish.

Statistics from the ministry showed sluggish maize and wheat consumption in the last 11 months, which increased by 1 percent and 4 percent respectively compared with 2009.

Rice consumption increased 14 percent in the same period. Potato production was at 1.6 million 100 kg bags, against a target of 2.2 million 100 kg bags.

Songa attributed the low Irish potato production to poor attention to the crop, which is overshadowed by maize.

He told Reuters formation of the National Potato Council two weeks ago, which will oversee drafting of the first potato policy in the country, will more than double production and increase profitability by next year.

Agriculture was one of the key economic drivers highlighted in the third quarter results on Tuesday, that saw east Africa's biggest economy grow by 6.1 percent.

Agribusiness and value addition are said to have also added impetus to the changing eating habits.

"Private sector has enhanced value addition...you will see amaranth floor in the supermarkets, and this has eased pressure on maize," said Songa.

A study conducted by Tegemeo Institute, the research arm of Egerton University, as reported by Business Daily, showed dominance of staples in the food basket will decline as household incomes rise, while foods such as vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, fish and eggs will receive an increasing share of the household budget.

The Standard newspaper quoted Agriculture Permanent Secretary Romano Kiome as saying that government and farmers are holding about 19 million bags of maize, projecting a 45 percent increase when harvesting of the crop ends.

Rice production for the last 11 months stood at 601,743 90 kg bags, while beans accounted for 3.8 million 90 kg bags against a target of 5.6 million 90 kg bags on the back drop of heavy rains. Wheat production reduced by 300,000 bags to 4.2 million 90 kg bags to fungal disease.

Reuters

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