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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Post-election violence in Kenya and the unravelling of rural economies and livelihoods: The Case of Nyanza Province

The Social and economic disruption of the post-election turmoil is colossal. There is no doubt that feuding ethnic communities; Kikuyu, Kisii, Luo and Kalenjin have built an incredibly efficient network of trade that clearly supersedes the network of tribe.

The chain of commerce, from credit, agricultural inputs, produce, distribution, markets and consumption is highly integrated. This complex web of economic integration was until now unappreciated and undocumented. These once functional links of commerce have been brutally severed by machetes.

Knowing what they know now, it is highly doubtful that these communities would engage in such a broad scale conflict without external incitement. These rural folk, uneducated for the most part, may not have read Thomas Friedman's book. But they know that their world is flat. Trade had flattened the social landscape, creating unprecedented networks of exchange and collaboration.

Most of Western Kenya; Nyanza, North West and Central Rift Valley is headed for a devastating economic meltdown. Associated with this meltdown is a looming food crisis, hunger and malnutrition. These are largely rural based economies that rely on commercial maize farming, small holder subsistence mixed farming, small scale intensive horticulture and inter-community trade

Collectively, the Kalenjin own the largest tracts of land in the Rift valley. They are livestock keepers and large scale producers of maize and wheat. These operations are largely mechanized and rely on modern inputs (fertilizer, seed and pesticides). The large operations rely on inputs from stores predominantly operated by Kikuyu and Kisii merchants in Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kericho, Kapsabet, Nandi Hills, Njoro and Kitale. The Kikuyu and Kisii own smaller land parcels which they put to under intensive market oriented mixed farming.

The Kikuyu and Kisii community have been evicted from the major towns, trading centres and rural areas in the Rift Valley. The effects of these violent evictions have been fast and furious. Unit prices of inorganic fertilizers have doubled in the three weeks of turmoil. Besides, there is a looming shortage owing to major disruptions in road and rail transportation.

Farmers in Kisii, Nyamira and Keroka are sitting on a pile of produce that they cannot sell to their Luo neighbours in the towns of Oyugis, Homabay, Kendubay, Migori, Sondu, Ahero and Kisumu. Public transport in the central and southern Nyanza region is controlled by kisii businessmen. The Kikuyu owned matatus (vans and mini-buses) dominated the Kisumu-Busia, Kisumu-Kakamega and Kisumu-Eldoret routes. Following the post-election violence, the Kisii and the Kikuyu withdrew their vehicles, gravely paralysing road transportation.

The price of basic food especially of cabbages, kale, potatoes, onions and tomatoes has more than tripled in the towns Homabay, Kendubay, Sondu and Ahero as well Kisumu. National inflation is now 20% up from 12.5% in January 2008. Local inflation in Nyanza towns is currently in the neighbourhood of 30%. High transportation costs and short falls in commodity supplies are strong contributing factors. The Vice Chancellor of Maseno University recently said that food shortages and inflationary prices would present a special challenge to the operations of the University.

Large scale maize production in Nyanza happens in places such as Awendo, and Lambwe Valley in South Nyanza. Farm operations in these areas will be greatly affected by high costs of land preparation (high fuel prices will affect the cost of hiring tractors for land preparation; for inexplicable reason, the cost of land preparation using oxen power has shot up). There is a high likelihood that the total acreage under maize will decline this season due these high costs.

Rising inflation in urban areas will greatly affect remittances and cash flows in rural Nyanza. This will be made worse by displacement, dispossession and loss of employment and income among semi-skilled luo labourers who have been evicted from Nyeri, Nakuru, Naivasha, Thika and Kiambu and Ruiru.

Often these migrant workers provide for their wives and children who live in the rural homelands. Hence, decline or total collapse of cash remittances could precipitate severe hunger and malnutrition in the immediate term for most families in Nyanza. Families who are retuning to their villages from following the violence will be particularly vulnerable.

Medium scale farmers in Nyanza who rely on hired labour will cut back on production due to shortages of cash remittances from lower-middle income family in urban areas. Studies have shown that remittances, just like subsidies, are a critical to the viability of small holder production systems in western Kenya.

Over the next 3-6 months, there is a high likelihood that price of dry maize will rise steeply over most of Nyanza region. The price increases will be in large part due to high transportation costs arising from damaged roads and sheer scarcity of transport operators.

Marketing, supply and distribution of fish and fish products from Lake Victoria is controlled by the Kikuyu and Asian merchants. Revenue from fisheries has crushed since the onset of the violence. Fish and fish products no longer not reach the lucrative markets of Nairobi. The consumer demand in western Kenya and Rift Valley is too low to keep the fisherman and their gear on the lake. The temporary collapse of the fishing industry will further exacerbate the cash flow crisis in Nyanza and deepen the food crises.

There is a high likelihood of severe food crisis, hunger and malnutrition among a majority of families in Nyanza in the first and second quarter of 2008. The temporary relief of the post harvest period expected in July- August-September will not happen due to low production.

The the food situation will be worse in early 2009 when maize production short falls in Kitale and Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Kericho play out in full scale. Kenya may have to rely on maize imports to bridge the national deficit in 2008 maize production.

There is an opportunity here to explore the role of trade networks in building social cohesion and conflict prevention.

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