Ideas & Debate

Africa should walk the talk to address food systems agenda


A farmer ploughs at Kaaboi in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County on January 28, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG



  • Food or food systems is a trending topic this month.
  • This week’s Africa Green Revolution Forum Summit in Nairobi offered great space for the continent to debate the theme: ‘Pathways to Recovery and Resilient Food Systems”.
  • The recovery is self-explanatory — building back from Covid-19.

Food or food systems is a trending topic this month. This week’s Africa Green Revolution Forum Summit in Nairobi offered great space for the continent to debate the theme: ‘Pathways to Recovery and Resilient Food Systems”.

The recovery is self-explanatory — building back from Covid-19.

By some accounts, national leaders lamented the poor state of African agriculture in what should be a high-potential, high-growth sector in this part of the world.

That’s the resilience part, pandemic notwithstanding. Wednesday must have been a particularly tricky day for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

First a keynote address at the forum in which he called on African leaders to promote initiatives supporting inclusive agricultural transformation, extolling Kenya’s efforts on the potential role of young people, better use of data for decisions, improved diet quality, enhanced climate action, promotion of indigenous foods and the uptake of digital agricultural solutions among our farmers.

Then declaration as a national disaster of a nasty drought hitting parts of Kenya. Ministries have been mobilised to assist affected households through water and relief food distribution as well as livestock uptake.

The last numbers I saw were two million Kenyans across 10 counties, but this feels conservative.

In their latest August 2021 report, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network paints a big chunk of Kenya’s map in crisis mode until January 2022 on food insecurity — the assessment scale is a standardised continuum: minimal-stressed-crisis-emergency-famine.

The report pithily headlines our predicament thus: “Poor crop and livestock production and Covid-19 restrictions drive food insecurity.”

It apparently required a delegation of 85 leaders drawn from our arid and semi-arid lands to get this official declaration. The subsequent statement unhelpfully concluded that “the government’s drought mitigation measures will be announced in due course”.

Remember the Big Four agenda? On 100 per cent food and nutrition security, it offered six promises for 2022.

A 34 percent rise in average farmer incomes. A 27 percent reduction in malnutrition among children under five. A 50 (not 100) percent drop in the number of food-insecure people across Kenya.

A 47 percent decline in the cost of food as a proportion of household income. A 48 percent rise in agriculture’s relative contribution to the gross domestic product, with 1,000 new agro-processing SMEs and 600,000 new agro-jobs.

Lest we forget, we also have specific national plans — as part of Vision 2030 Medium-Term Plans — on drought risk management and ending drought emergencies built around stuff like peace and human security, climate-proof infrastructure and human capital development.

That’s before we get to our gigantic three anchors, nine flagships 2019-2029 Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy and its Sh440 billion 2019-2024 investment plan.

The anchors aim to increase small-scale farmer, pastoralist and fisherfolk incomes, increase agricultural output and value addition and boost household food resilience.

Recognising that agriculture is a devolved function, the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy bravely allocates 100 agricultural value chains across our 47 counties.

You might begin to see where I am going. We seem to have agricultural visioning and planning on the one hand, and a different food reality on the other.

One illustration of this comes from budget allocations. As noted, agriculture is a devolved function. In pre-devolution 2012/13, the budget read Sh42 billion for national and nothing for counties, which didn’t exist.

In devolution’s first seven years to 2019/20, the numbers were Sh321 billion versus Sh107 billion. That’s a 3:1 national to county ratio at a time when total agriculture spend, at three percent, is way short of our 10 percent Malabo commitment.

The disproportionality doesn’t end there. Although last year’s Sh57 billion Covid-19 stimulus allocated almost 10 percent (Sh5 billion) to agriculture, the subsequent 2020-22 Economic Recovery Strategy was designed to offer four percent (Sh30 billion) of a total Sh780 billion need.

Of course, by the time the 2021/22 budget came around, this monstrous need had been reduced by 97 percent to Sh26 billion.

Back to the beginning. I mentioned this September is about food. Later this month, the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit happens.

Discussions will focus on five action tracks, 15 action areas, and multiple solution clusters and game-changing propositions to transform our food systems.

Action tracks? Ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all. Shifting to sustainable food consumption patterns. Boosting nature-positive production.

Advancing equitable livelihoods. Building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. Think “good food for all”. Are we ready for this debate?

Space does not permit me to delve into the detail, although I have engaged in a couple of pre-summit dialogues, which speak to the African Union and Kenyan (national, not county) positions to which I have contributed thoughts on game-changers.

I will say that much of the positioning I have seen is centred around public policy rather than private initiative relevant to our micro, small and medium enterprises-led African economic space.

This is our trouble with food. We have a nice policy, but weak practice. Agriculture is “other people’s business”. To paraphrase that infamous Apollo spaceflight mission, “Africa, we have a food problem”. We will return to this game-changing subject in the coming weeks.