Ideas & Debate

Hunger could be our next crisis, but we can avert it


Emaciated animals hit by drought in Kenya in 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has raised the red flag about a looming increase in food insecurity. This is based on a steady increase in the global food prices index that has been occasioned by a number of factors most of which will linger around if the status quo prevails.

The last few years have seen Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa experience food insecurity. This was instigated by a prolonged drought, fanned by desert locust invasion and worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Russia/Ukraine war is further complicating things; tilting the scale against food security efforts. At consumer level, this has affected supply of wheat and maize among other agricultural products.

Wheat and maize constitute a good percentage of our staple food, already prices of these commodities are soaring. At the production level, fertiliser and other farm inputs have suffered reduced supply there is likely to be a negative impact at how much food we shall be able to produce in the coming days.

Our population is growing and this automatically means more mouths to feed and a subsequent task of producing more food. According to FAO, it is projected that Africa will have the fastest urban growth in the world.

Currently, 472 million people live in African cities and this number is expected to grow to 810 million people by 2035 and double by 2050. This will certainly put pressure on urban food systems that is already struggling with food safety and scarcity on one end and food wastage on the other amid increasing food prices.

Rural to urban migration is another concern. There is a growing concerns that rural areas might lose a significant share of their young and educated labor force as our farmers’ age.

This movement also significantly affects urban food systems as this immigrants immediately transform to consumers from producers; increase demand for food in the urban areas and subsequently food prices. This situation also affects the rural urban food system linkages.

From a gender perspective, migration of men out of rural areas increases women’s agricultural workload and responsibilities. This is further exacerbated by the fact that women have unequal access to financial, technical and social resources and within the context of migration, gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial.

Women who are mostly involved in agricultural production still face a challenge of land ownership. Through research; FAO has reported that if rural women in developing countries, such as Kenya, had the same access to productive resources as men in terms of labour, technology and knowledge, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent.

This could raise the total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4.0 percent, which could in turn reduce the number of the hungry in the world by 12–17 percent.

Despite many benefits migration might have on the communities of origin. Productivity differences that correspond to income gaps between agriculture and other sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and services, has given rise to rural-to-urban migration that stimulates the process of urbanisation and results in a decline in the share of agriculture in both GDP and employment.

Despite this grim picture; there is more that can be achieved toward food and nutrition security. Recently Kenya hosted the 9th Africities summit in Kisumu that brought together policy makers drawn from around Africa.

FAO held a special session on feeding intermediary cities. It emerged that food is produced, processed, consumed and disposed influences urban development in small, intermediary and metropolitan cities. Local action for sustainable transformation is key to success in transforming food systems at all levels. Local governments and urban administrations can be the first port of call for action on sustainable food systems.

Intermediary cities constitute the hub for “middle level” activities and services along the food chain (logistics, transport, collection points and wholesale markets) which connect rural farmers to food production points in larger cities and consumption points both at national level and beyond. It is a great milestone that the FAO Framework for the Urban Food Agenda – has been adopted by FAO’s intergovernmental committees.

Kenya in collaboration with FAO is currently implementing this through several projects in Kisumu and Nairobi that aim at improving access to nutritious and healthy diets.

Being a knowledge organisation FAO is employing research in food systems. We are monitoring behaviour of prices of foods especially those that form an important diet for the poor this informs adjustments to interventions like the unconditional cash transfers.

These findings are being used to build capacities of communities on adoptive and innovative urban agriculture practices to boost their incomes, food and nutrition security.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture is one key entry point for promoting the systemic approach. We must promote sustainable food waste management. Working with the government FAO is supporting women street food vendors identified through women associations to improve their business skills in Kisumu and Nairobi.

The worsening food insecurity situation has necessitated a scale up resource mobilisation to avert a food crisis. FAO, is currently looking at a long term solutions that emphasis resilience building while intervening in the current emergencies.