Agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy, accounting for 30% of GDP, but we are a food-insecure country, relying on formal and illegal imports of maize, rice, and wheat to feed our growing population.
Food security, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is a situation in which all people have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food in sufficient quantities and quality so that no one goes hungry and the food does not cause health complications due to poor quality.
Unbelievably, 56 years after independence, our people are still suffering from hunger, which is mostly a rural issue because the rural population is the most vulnerable when a famine occurs. The high cost of agriculture inputs, poor adoption of technology, increased frequency of pests and diseases, climate change and variability, and a failed marketing system are all contributing factors to Kenya’s food crisis.
We can surmount these challenges through sound implementation of the plans. It is evident from history that the severest food crises occur in countries completely unprepared for the crises and which are unable to resolve the situations without international aid. Our economic growth as envisaged in Vision 2030 can be achieved through transforming small-scale agriculture from subsistence to innovative, commercially oriented, and modern agriculture.
We need interventions that are planned on the basis of good understanding of the factors that contribute to the particular vulnerability of rural people. Planners must understand the people who produce food in this country. The bulk of them are small-scale farmers and it is imperative that the implementers of government policies must show commitment and be held accountable for any shortcomings.
We should invest more in food value enhancement. Potatoes and tomatoes are perishable fruits and vegetables, but when processed, they can be kept for a long time. This has the potential to generate local jobs and attract the majority of our youngsters. One of the techniques to prevent the occurrence of micronutrient deficiency is nutrition intervention such as “dietary diversity.” Consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, egg, meat, poultry, fish, readily available sources of iron, zinc, and preformed vitamin A, is often small because of economic, cultural and religious constraints.
Strategies for food and dietary diversification at the community and household levels should include a range of food-based activities that maximize the availability of adequate amounts and greater variety of nutritious foods. The aquaculture activities which we started through economic stimulus programmes ought to be revamped and we desist from importing fish and fish products from outside. Similarly, dairy farming can benefit from cottonseed cake feed formulations when cotton growing is revamped.
The high cost of production, low-value addition, poor animal husbandry, recurring drought and inadequate infrastructure, among other factors, constrain the potential of livestock to contribute to the food security needs. Provision of livestock feeds, construction of water pans and off-take programmes in ASAL counties should be strategic and need not be seen as a surprise.
As previously stated, the entire Mount Kenya region grows cash crops such as coffee, tea, macadamia, and miraa, which have historically helped to increase the region’s economic position. The breakdown of cooperative societies resulted in poor performance in the coffee sector, which has affected farmers’ abilities to purchase food items, take their children to school and pay medical bills.
Tea farmers have not been spared either. We should be asking ourselves how best we can put in place policies that would make our people realize the fruits of their labour and live a happy life. Our farmers have small holdings and their abilities to purchase inputs are hampered. With strong cooperative societies, they can pull resources and market their produce with ease. The Government must show serious commitment to reaffirm governance issues bedeviling cooperatives in Kenya. With good governance, transparency and accountability in cooperative societies, farmers can sustain themselves in agricultural activities.
In the Big Four agenda, the Government has prioritized food security and pledged to ensure all Kenyans are food secure by the year 2022 through expansion of food production and supply, reduction of food prices to ensure affordability, and through support to value addition in the food processing value chain.
The Senate passed Food Security Bill sponsored by Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen with amendments and referred to the National Assembly. This legislative framework is based on the need by the National and county governments to put in place measures and mechanisms to address food insecurity and therefore ensure that the right to food for all is realized. The Bill provides a framework and mechanisms through which the National and county governments shall fulfill their obligations in relation to food security.
The Senate has also passed the Warehouse Receipt System Bill with amendments and referred it to the National Assembly. The Bill was passed by the National Assembly with amendments and referred back to the Senate for concurrence.
Lack of or insufficient food consumption has major consequences for overall physical health and well-being, as well as the country’s growth and development.