August 25, 2009 / 12:06 PM / in 10 years

Drought hits Kenya maize crop, WFP seeks aid

* WFP appeals for $230 million for emergency food aid

* Experts estimate maize output at 15 million bags

* Demand stands at around 35 million bags

(Recasts with WFP appeal)

NAIROBI, Aug 25 (Reuters) - The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) appealed on Tuesday for more than $230 million to provide emergency food aid over the next six months for 3.8 million Kenyans affected by deepening drought and high food prices.

Experts say Kenya’s output of its staple food maize is likely to be just 15 million 90-kg bags this year, sharply lower than the government’s forecast of 20.4 million bags.

"Red lights are flashing across the country," Burkard Oberle, WFP’s Kenya country director said in a statement.

"People are already going hungry, malnutrition is preying on more and more young children, cattle are dying — we face a huge challenge and are urging the international community to provide us with the resources we need to get the job done."

Many parts of the country have now suffered three or even four consecutive failed rainy seasons, WFP says, and conditions are expected to deteriorate further over the coming months.

Two weeks ago, Agriculture Minister William Ruto said east Africa’s biggest economy faced rising food prices for the rest of 2009 due to lower output after rains failed in some regions.

Ruto said the maize crop would fall to 20.4 million bags compared with 28 million bags in a normal season. [ID:nLB103772]

But the country director of ACDI/VOCA, a U.S.-based group that promotes agriculture, said output was likely to reach only 15 million bags due to prolonged drought, high fertiliser prices and the lingering effects of post-election violence last year.

"Production is bound to be less than the predicted figure. Twenty million is an obvious over-estimate," Steve Collins was quoted as saying by the Daily Nation newspaper.

Kenya expects an annual maize demand of about 35 million bags, meaning it will be even more reliant on imports this year.

The paper also quoted the head of the country’s Cereal Growers’ Association, David Nyameino, as saying wheat production was also expected to dip to 2.8 million bags, versus 3.5 million grown during an average year. (Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Blackburn)

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