Famine, famine relief and public policy in Kitui district
Akong'a, Joshua J.
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It is generally known that famine is both a biological and social phenomenon that can be man or naturally caused. As such, it has both physiological and interpersonal implications. In Kitui district of Kenya, famine is usually a consequence of drought, though in the past, weavil birds, locusts, floods and rinderpest have contributed to the severity of famine there. Famine in Kitui district is therefore predominantly environmentally related. There are limitations on how much can be planted and harvested since it lies in a semi-arid region where drought is a recurrent problem causing acute shortages of food, water for human and livestock consumption and pasture. Long range subsistence planning is therefore nearly impossible due to the scarcity and variability of rainfall. In the first part of the paper, there is a description of memorable, therefore culturally significant famines, possible dates of occurrence since 1897 to 1981, and their local names. What transpired during the specific famines in terms of response and adjustment is considered from two points of view. 1. What the people of Kitui did to adjust to the specific famines such as pawning wives and daughters for food, migration etc. 2. What the (colonial or postcolonial) administration in the area did to assist the people survive the famines through famine relief provisions, tax exemption etc. The second part of the paper consists of the results of a district wide survey aimed at eliciting the people's perception of their environment, famine and famine relief. Thus, the descriptive (historical) and statistical data presented provide us with an assessment of past social and monetary costs of famine, especially in the provision of famine relief food. From the past Kitui experiences, two recommendations are made: 1. There should be a consistent famine relief policy which should be part of the already formulated food policy. This would have district variations and would consist of provisions such as famine monitoring machinery: machinery for identifying local famine stricken families; transport facilities for famine relief: control of smuggling, price rises and hoarding. 2. Regional specialization of production, agriculturists living in symbiotic relationship with pastoralists so that drought need not give rise to famine if food can easily be transported from other regions.