The route to achieving food security


A pickup ferries cabbage to market in Nyeri town on November 18, 2022. Farmers who use irrigation to grow their crops are smiling all the way to the bank as a shortage of many commodities bites following the drought in the country. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

During the French Revolution, Queen Marie-Antoinette is quoted as saying that “Let them eat cake,” in reference to her starving peasant who, at the time, had no bread.

Although her words illustrated her ignorance of the circumstances and the daily lives of the poor, she nevertheless demonstrates that food isn’t only bread.

This reminds me of the Biblical saying that Man does not live by bread alone.

The adage sometimes is a clear reminder that humanity must be innovative in its food systems. In other words, we must diversify our consumption patterns to mitigate hunger if staple food fails.

A summary of a Global Discourse last week, including the COP 27 conference held at El Sharm El Sheikh, focused on balancing food production and climate resilience.

In Nairobi, Bill Gates, while addressing students, talked about innovating for food security and climate change. In Geneva, where I was a panelist in one of the sessions, the Global Grain Council addressed new ways of overcoming food security risks due to the war in Ukraine.

There were a dozen other conferences discussing food innovations for resilience.

However, little is discussed on how people conceptualize food and how they view food security.

If we can answer these questions, we could easily fill the gaps in addressing food security and ensure a sustainable nutrition future.

In Africa, for example, people go hungry while there is plenty to eat. My community's food is maizemeal with greens, milk, or meats. Bananas that are plentiful in the region are considered snacks or a cash crop, even at times when maize is in short supply.

And only recently did wheat and rice become acceptable as food stock.

And despite technological advances, which have been developed to minimize food waste, many developing countries still have problems adding value to produce to cut food loss and strengthen food security and nutrition. In my view, these problems result from a disconnect between policymakers and food producers.

In Kenya, Agricultural is the backbone of the economy, directly contributing 24 percent of the GDP and 60 percent of export earnings.

Even though this is highlighted in Vision 2030, which promises to add value to agricultural produce, the informal market is still being sidelined, with lots of food rotting at the production level.

The concept of food security is still very narrow in many communities. Just like in the past when humans moved from foraging to agricultural societies over 10,000 years ago, humanity can shift consumption patterns in line with the emerging environmental changes we are now experiencing.

It is impossible, for example, for nomadic communities to sustainably maintain their livestock at the current rate of environmental degradation.

All these problems are solvable through innovative formal and informal education programs. The focus of such plans is to make people more aware of the benefits that accrue by changing current practices toward the sustainability of food production.

In Nairobi, Bill Gates suggested that having village-based advisors (influencers) could have more impact on behavior change.

Luckily, in many communities, the infrastructure for having influencers already exists, especially via rural cooperative societies.

Because these communities exist, reconceptualizing food in a tailored education using vernacular language could be very powerful. This is because, in the past, such interventions were made without considering how people would process the information in their language.

Even though Africa’s business incubation centers are growing, they are heavily skewed towards digital innovations simply because the success of digital solutions is widespread.

Unfortunately, many young people scorn careers in food science. To change these attitudes, policymakers must consider incentives around food innovation, such as rewards for competitive solutions to global challenges at this critical moment when the world seeks a sustainable future.

There is a need for humanity to have a common understanding of food and its innovations for a sustainable future. To this end, education and business incubation are the key imperatives as we leverage technology for value addition, new product development, and reduced waste.

The absence of knowledge about food is the source of hunger. Hunger is not the absence of food.

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