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Why Kenya should not be food insecure

Kenya’s climatic conditions are suitable for food production. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya’s climatic conditions are suitable for food production. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s priorities for the second term in office is dubbed, the Big Four, one of which is food security. This was one of the three ills that independent Kenya’s government targeted to eradicate, the others being ignorance and disease.

Over 50 years later we are still confronted with hunger as a challenge in Kenya. Every year the media is awash with scenes and stories of Kenya in various parts of the country facing starvation. Further both government and non-governmental, organizations periodically supply relief food to areas with food deficits.

In a study published in 2014, the African Women Studies Centre of the University of Nairobi published a report on the Status of Food Security in Kenya. The report found out that majority of Kenyans were food hungry.

The statistics revealed that food insecurity is spread across the country. Discussing the findings of this report with the Senate’s Agriculture Committee this past week, there was robust debate about how areas of this country that are considered the food basket can have food insecurity.

The discussions took place in the context of consideration by the Senate of the Food Security Bill, 2017. Initially discussed in the Senate during the last session, it lapsed before it could become law.

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The importance of a legislative framework on food security is underscored by the provisions of Article 43 (1) (c) of the Constitution. The provision guarantees to every Kenyan the right to food.

The food is required to be in sufficient quantities and qualities so that nobody suffers from hunger and also that the food does not cause health complications resulting from quality issues.

Why is Kenya insecure yet countries with harsher climatic conditions are able to feed their people? A key part of our challenge is governance. There are many institutions and laws that regulate production and distribution of food in Kenya. Like several areas in the country, laws and institutions do not on their own translate to desired results.

They require faithful implementation and prudent leadership. Just last year, the government capped the price of Maize flour to ensure that citizens were able to access them and make ugali, a key staple food. This intervention was shortlived and ended with the election season.

Very little was done to the underlying challenges that led to the unsustainable prices that obtained then and to which we are quickly reverting to.

Despite the challenges of climate change, Kenya’s climatic conditions are still suitable for food production. There are interventions necessary to respond to the changing climate, including improving the quality and variety of seeds that farmers plant and adoption irrigation agriculture.

However, the main challenge in the sector is the impact of corruption. Corruption negatively impacts on efforts to ensure food availability. A few years ago, the Government designed and has been implementing an expansive irrigation project to produce food in Galana Kulalu, at the Coast so as to address scarcity in the country.

Instead of discussing the contribution of the project to the country’s food needs, the focus was on whether or not corruption was evident in the implementation process.

It is symptomatic of our prioritisation as a country. Well meaning processes are viewed by those charged with the responsibility to implement them as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement.

Consequently, while food security as a priority for the government is demonstration of a commitment to deal with the main challenges that confront citizens on a daily basis, as evidenced by statistics. The study by the University of Nairobi team demonstrated, for example, that women spend up to 70 per cent of their income on food.

To deliver food security for the populace will ensure we have a healthy and productive population in addition to freeing their income to be used for other critical areas of the economy resulting in greater pace of development in the country.

Our starting point must be an audit of our current food interventions to identify areas of leakages and blockades.

Such a process will most likely reveal that our greatest challenge is not under-allocation or lack of resources but more about misuse and diversion of resources meant for food security. This is what we have to fix if we are to ensure that all Kenyans have access to adequate quantities and quality of food.

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