Kenya’s human population in 2020 stands at 47,564,296 and it is rapidly increasing. In 2016 its agricultural land as documented by the World Bank as was 48.55%. However, with the rise in population creating an unmet demand for food and the agricultural land decreasing as a result of human activities, are we food secure and able to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger?
According to article 43 (1) C of the constitution, Kenyans have a right to be free from hunger and to have access to adequate food that is of acceptable quality. Besides the agricultural sector forming the backbone of our economy, it is the surest means of us as Kenyan citizens being food secure. Any effect whatsoever experienced in this sector has a direct effect on our health and nutrition status in addition to our GDP rankings.
Food security is achieved when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for active and healthy life (FAO). Unfortunately, not all Kenyans are food secure. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) estimates that 12 million people are food poor as their income does not enable them to consume enough daily calories. Since not all Kenyans are food secure, malnutrition cannot be assumed.
Malnutrition can be an excess or deficiency of nutrients. Though obesity (nutrient excess) is an issue of concern, undernutrition is a key marker of health. Kenya is heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture and not all seasons favor the crops grown, the probability of food becoming unavailable is high. This unavailability is directly linked to malnutrition (UNICEF Conceptual Framework). Further, our over-dependence on agricultural imports exposes Kenya to global market fluctuations and an increased national debt that results in high food prices which contribute to people being food insecure.
The Kenya National Food Nutrition and Security Policy of 2011 acknowledges that since the majority of Kenyans are not able to afford a ‘decent’ meal, they subsist on staple crops that lack nutritional diversity. This exposes the individual to compromised immunity, development of diseases and infections, and ultimately death. Globally, malnutrition is known to cause half of all the deaths of children below five years (UNICEF). This form of malnutrition mostly in terms of low weight, wasting and stunting also affects the learning ability among children. As demonstrated by statistics provided by the Kenya Demographic Health Survey report and other separate reports, is Kenya adequately allocating its resources to ensure food security?
Agriculture has been highlighted as one of the big 4 agendas however, much needs to be done these include:
- Encourage the growth of indigenous crops that are drought resistant such as Millet
- Allocation of 10% of the national budget to agriculture as is the agreement in the Maputo Declaration
- Supporting sustainable food production systems such as organic farming to ensure the soils are nutrient-rich for quality foods
- Improving infrastructure to ensure accessibility to food markets
- Promoting and supporting safe and effective storage of foodstuff to minimize post-harvest losses
- Exploring the possibility of ASAL (Arid and Semi-Arid Land) in terms of food productivity
- Rainwater harvesting to promote agriculture in ASAL areas
- Supporting small scale farmers through affordable loans to improve food production
- Having proper pest control measures. The locust invasion, which was considered to be the worst in several decades, that occurred from December 2019 to around March 2020 may have rendered some food insecure because the measures in place were not okay
The aforementioned strategies are just but a few to be done by the government. On an individual level, minimizing the commercialization of protein-rich foods such as milk and eggs in rural areas to ensure that the specific household has a diversified diet. Also, having a kitchen garden where vegetables can be grown may help improve food availability.
Only when food is available, accessible, and affordable can we say we are food secure. We all have our roles to play since food security requires a multi-sectoral approach. A step at a time in the right direction towards achieving zero hunger will ensure that it is not just a mere goal on paper but an achievable one.