Undermining the critical role of agriculture is keeping Kenyans hungry and poor
Safeguarding the fundamental human right to food for all Kenyans and future generations requires an essential change in the mindset of all the actors in the entire value chain. Approaches to how food is grown and distributed require a concerted effort by all key actors to feed current and future generations while ensuring the conservation of biodiversity. Wanjiru Kamau, an expert in agriculture and environment, explains the state of production in Kenya and its implication for the population.
According to FAO Hunger Hotspots Report for February to May 2022, it is estimated that 2.8 million Kenyans are acutely food insecure and over 368,000 are in the emergency phase of food insecurity. The key drivers for this dire situation are drought and high food prices. If the March to May long rain is poor as is forecasted, it will be the fourth season in a row to experience scanty rain, the longest consecutive period in the past 40 years. Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for himself, the health and well-being of his family.” This is the right for citizens of the world to not suffer from hunger. Article 43 of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution states, “Every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.”
Situational analysis of agriculture in Kenya
The agricultural sector is the backbone of the economy and contributes about 33% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and an additional 27% to GDP through linkages to other sectors such as manufacturing, distribution and services. The sector employs more than 40% of the total population and about 70% of the rural population . Overall, the agriculture sector grew at an average rate of 4.8% between 2012 and 2016, slightly below the growth rate across the Kenyan economy, compared with countries like Senegal and Cameroun which experienced growth rates of 6.5%-6.8% over the same period. Despite this seemingly rosy picture, all is not well in the country.
An overview of the past droughts from 2008-2017 shows that about 1.1 to 3.7 million people experienced food shortages and needed food aid. Food consumption accounts for 45% of Kenyan household expenditure with approximately 42% reporting that they sometimes lack food. On average, the prices of staple foods doubled compared to the prices of the same food in other EAC countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report on food baskets shows a 20% increase in food prices compared to January 2021. A key reason for this is the trend towards food imports which have increased at an average of 10% each year from 2006 to 2016. Agricultural exports have grown at 2% per year, suggesting a declining food trade balance. Considering the geopolitical risks of the Russia and Ukraine war, this situation can only worsen in the short and medium-term. Governments must expand social safety nets to reach more people. They could enact policies that focus more on support to domestic production of healthy and nutritious foods.
Low prioritization and allocation of resources to agriculture
From 2012 to 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries spent an average of 6% of the national budget on food security. This varied from 1% in 2012/2013 to 28% in 2016/2017 when the drought declaration was reissued due to unfavourable rains. Despite the commitment in the Maputo 2003 Declaration of African governments’ to allocate 10% of their national budget to agriculture and food security in Africa, with Heads of States agreeing to adopt sound agricultural and rural development policies, this remains unmet by many countries apart from Morocco and Ethiopia. This under allocation has led Kenya to become an importer of food and is currently the largest recipient of food aid globally. There is evidence that growth in the agricultural sector has strong linkages to the broader economy. A 1% growth in agriculture is estimated to drive 1.6% overall GDP growth.
Weak management of the Strategic food reserves increases vulnerability to hunger
The strategic food reserve system, operated through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has a mandate to stabilize food supply and prices, arrange the procurement, storage and sale of food commodities, maintain adequate strategic food reserves in physical stock or cash equivalent and mobilize resources to support strategic food reserve-related activities. This mandate covers six commodities: maize, beans, rice, canned beef, powdered milk and fish.
Considering the declining crop and livestock yields with a deficit of 92% for maize and 33% for other cereals in comparison with regional top performers, there is urgent need to increase the ability of the national and individual households to respond to acute emergencies and pricing shocks. At the national level, the focus value chains are maize and beans. At the household level, value chains are region-specific and include other cereals and/or pulses, e.g., millet, sorghum, maize, beans, green grams amongst others. Perhaps it is time the strategic food reserves considered mechanisms to include cooking oil in line with the sharp increase in prices.
Safeguarding the basic human right to food for all Kenyans and future generations will require essential changes in the way we grow, distribute and use the Earth’s natural resources for our food. ABN and its partners advocate for an enabling policy framework on agroecology in support of sustainable food production systems in Kenya and around the continent. A country’s food sovereignty lies in its ability to produce its food sustainably. ABN partners work with small-scale farmers to build their confidence in producing indigenous food, seed selection and saving, and other sustainable approaches supporting seed and food sovereignty in their communities and countries. ABN also builds the confidence of the smallholder farmers to articulate issues affecting them locally to lobby and advocate as grassroots movements scale up to the national levels for actions to be taken by the policymakers.
The author is an expert in agriculture and environment and can be reached on email@example.com.
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