The crucial role of food diversity in nutritional security


Millions of Kenyans depend on emergency food aid. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The human right to food is yet to be fully realised in Kenya. More than 10 million Kenyans suffer from chronic food insecurity. One-quarter of children under five years old are stunted. Millions of Kenyans depend on emergency food aid and one in five families would not meet the minimum food requirement even if they spent all their income on food.

Additionally, obesity and diet-related diseases are on the rise in Kenya, raising questions on the diversity, safety and quality of the food.

Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for food and agriculture is a viable approach in addressing the food and nutritional security problems in Kenya.

This position is informed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture Report released in February 2019, amongst other resources.

The compilation of 91 country reports – Kenya included – concludes that Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (BFA) is declining worldwide, and calls for concerted efforts to prevent further decline.

In the report, FAO secretary -general, José Graziano da Silva highlights the importance of BFA in achieving zero hunger, food and nutrition security for all and urges efforts to conserve BFA for realisation of the aspirations of a food secure world and sustainable food systems.

The report identifies pollution, use of external inputs, trade and market forces among key drivers of biodiversity loss. Further, it points out significant negative impacts of the two drivers on animal and plant genetic resources, associated biodiversity, ecosystem services and wild foods against different production systems.

Plant and animal genetic resources and associated biodiversity in mixed farming systems also face decline with strong negative effects coming from all drivers of biodiversity loss studied in the report.

Pollination, among other ecosystem services was also reported to be negatively affected by pollution and use of external inputs. Pollination, pest and disease regulation, nutrient and water cycling which are important in sustaining agricultural productivity and healthy agro-ecosystems were reported to be declining.

Kenya’s farming system has for the past four decades moved towards a more industrial model of production. This model, in many ways, downplays the role of biodiversity and it is functioning in enhancing agricultural productivity, food quality, dietary diversity and the resilience of farms and food systems to shocks.

The approach has led to a significant loss of agricultural and associated biodiversity.

The continued disregard of BFA components and their resultant exposure to risks of further loss poses a substantial risk to agro-ecosystems and resilience of communities to climate change and in turn, affect food production and access.

This deepens the vulnerability of Kenyans to chronic hunger and malnutrition and undermines the realisation of the Right to Food in Kenya, which is provided for in Article 43 of the Constitution.

The writer is Route to Food Initiative youth ambassador.