Unga, food security should top policy agenda beyond the August 9 elections

A maize farm in Kitale. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

It is just over two weeks to the next General Election. Candidates have put several issues on their campaign agenda. The presidential debate this week will give us further insights into what the candidates would do in case they get in power.

While various issues have defined the elections, the debate around food security depicted by the contestation over unga (maize flour) crisis and the move by the government to reduce the price of a two-kilo packet to Sh100 per and the reaction by the political elite to that action tops my list of the election of policy questions.

While the Constitution guarantees every Kenyan the right to adequate food of acceptable quality, the reality is that many Kenyans cannot afford three meals a day. Watching news over the weekend, the media reminded the country that the high prices of unga were also a campaign contestation in 2017, with the controversy then around the importation of maize allegedly from Mexico.

Five years later the debate still rages on. The two leading coalitions in their manifesto speak to revamping the agricultural sector and also promoting value addition. The reality is that whichever side wins the elections, addressing the food crisis facing the country is urgent.

A few days ago, I attended an international webinar on agri-food systems. The discussions revolved around how to transform agri-food systems. The challenge that I raised was how to think out of the box in legislating and policymaking in this area.

Question one for the country must be the place of indigenous foods in our food systems. Traditional foods have two important roles – addressing the degradation of natural ecosystems and delivering health.

The debate should address how Kenya can diversify its food sources. While maize is the staple food for a majority of Kenyans, in fact I cannot envisage two days without ugali (maize meal), the country needs to provide support to other food crops as a strategy towards enhancing food security.

The third issue is the link between environment and food. While the agricultural sector is a priority agenda for campaign manifestoes, the environmental nexus is not given sufficient attention. Strategies around climate-smart agriculture and enhancing resilience are fundamental policy areas requiring innovative solutions.

Citizens cannot live on the edge of their lives wondering whether they will have access to food or not. When a population is not guaranteed of three meals a day, they are reduced to living a base life.

This hinders their effective involvement in productive life and contributions to the development of the country. Government has responsibility to reverse this trend by designing appropriate and sustainable policy interventions that guarantee citizens a decent meal every day.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.