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Praise for Kenya in bleak UN report on food security in Africa

South Sudanese refugees collect aid food at a Refugee Waiting Centre.
South Sudanese refugees collect aid food at a Refugee Waiting Centre. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY | AFP  

New York/United Nations
Kenya is lauded for its achievements in a new United Nations report that presents an otherwise bleak assessment of food security in Africa.

“Kenya has had remarkable success in reducing under-nutrition,” states the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation in its 2018 Africa overview published on Wednesday.

FAO rates Kenya’s performance in meeting global nutrition targets as the best among countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

That achievement is “largely due to government leadership, coordination and partnership,” the report says.

“The high level of political commitment is also reflected in the ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ that is championed by the First Lady [Margaret Kenyatta] and aims to strengthen HIV control and improve maternal, newborn and child health,” the report adds.

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Kenya’s progress in combating malnutrition stands in sharp contrast to the sub-Saharan region’s regression on many indicators of food security.

Close to one-quarter of Africans living in countries south of the Sahara are under-nourished, FAO reports.

Inadequate nutrition

The percentage of people without adequate nutrition has risen from 21.1 percent in 2015 to 23.2 percent in 2017, the latest year for which region-wide statistics are available.

The report does not include figures for Kenya in 2017. But it suggests that the rate of under-nourishment in the country has actually risen in recent years despite FAO’s singling-out of Kenya as a sub-Saharan success story.

Kenya’s uptick in under-nourishment in 2015 and 2016 —from 22.5 percent of the population to 24.2 percent — was likely the result of a drought that particularly affected northern counties but that generally eased in 2017.

In addition to weather- and climate-related factors, worsening food-security conditions in many sub-Saharan countries were driven by declining prices for oil and mineral exports, as well as by conflicts that left millions of Africans in urgent need of assistance, the report points out.

Specific measurements related to overall nutrition statistics showed striking gains for Kenya.

Anaemia in women of reproductive age fell from 36 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2016. Exclusive reliance on breastfeeding rose from 32 percent of Kenyan women with newborns in 2009 to 61.4 percent in 2014.

Stunting for Kenyan children under age five dropped from 41 to 26 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to FAO.

Kenya’s child mortality rate in 2014 was nearly half of the figure for 1989, the report adds.

Free maternity services

In accordance with the National Nutrition Action Plan, “expecting mothers are encouraged, through the free maternity services policy, to deliver their babies in health facilities, resulting in improved mother and childcare,” the report states.

It notes that between 2008 and 2014 the number of babies born in a health facility rose from 43 percent to 61 percent.

Kenya’s ability to make further progress in providing adequate nutrition for its people is constrained by a lack of funding, FAO observes.

Other challenges are said to include the persistence of gender-based and geographic inequalities which are reflected in nutrition outcomes.

“Although female secondary school enrolment has expanded steadily, greater efforts are needed to further raise educational attainments of women as well as effectively diffuse nutrition knowledge,” the report says.

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