Experts say Kenya must do more on food security

October 11, 2012
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Unsustainable use of land, water and energy threatens food security in poor countries/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 11 – Development and human rights institutions are urging Kenya to improve the governance of natural resources, scale up technical approaches in agriculture and address the drivers of natural resource scarcity in order to strengthen food security in the country.

According to the 2012 Global Hunger Index released by three organisations – the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide – unsustainable use of land, water and energy is threatening the food security of the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world.

The Director of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office Kwadwo Asenso Okyere said that food security is threatened by the government’s focus on short-term economic gains; uncoordinated land, water and energy policies and a lack of political willingness and action to design policies that increase efficiency and reduce waste of natural resources.

“We need to have secure land and water rights. We need to have either legislation, or ways and means to monitor the situation and see what’s happening,” he said.

“We need to phase out subsidies. Subsidies are good and they enable a learning curve, but what we have seen is that if you don’t manage your subsidies well, the people who are supposed to get the subsidies won’t get them,” he noted.

He added that the government needs to scale up technical solutions to conserve and foster more efficient use of natural resources, and emphasised that women must be given access to education and reproductive health services because they are the primary drivers of the agriculture sector.

The 2012 Index titled ‘The Challenge of Hunger: Ensuring Sustainable Food Security under Land, Water, and Energy Stresses’ notes that hunger on a global scale remains serious with 20 countries having levels of hunger that are ‘alarming’ or ‘extremely alarming’.

Welthungerhilfe Project Manager Josephine Thome revealed that they have invested over Sh2.5 billion in the last five years to support disaster and reduce risks of drought.

“Through enhanced water structures, improved sanitation and hygiene practices and cash injections to the most vulnerable households, the statistics could reach 48,000 beneficiaries through these interventions,” she explained.

“To improve the water situation, water storage is mandatory. We have embarked on rock catchment structures, which have proven to be of great value to the water situation in the rural areas,” she added.

Thome explained that growing scarcity and degradation of farmland, rapidly rising incomes and changing consumption patterns have all contributed to an increasing number of international land invests or land deals, with many deals targeted in sub-Saharan Africa where land rent is lower, regulatory systems weaker and levels of hunger higher.

Welthungerhilfe president Barbel Dieckmann said, “Large-scale foreign investments in land should be closely monitored.”

“Local organisations are needed to secure transparency and the participation of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are impacted by land deals,” he added.

Dieckmann explained that water scarcity is exacerbated by climate change, especially in the severely water-stressed areas of the world, which are home to more than 2 billion people.

He added that flooding, drought and environmental degradation all threaten agriculture in many parts of the world.

“Rising global energy prices are a serious threat to food security, increasing demand for agricultural land and water for crop production which in turn raises food prices,” he said.

“Higher energy prices also increase agricultural input costs, such as the cost of fertilizer, groundwater pumping and machinery, putting further pressure on prices,” he added.

On his part, Concern Worldwide’s CEO Tom Arnold emphasised that, “agricultural production must increase substantially to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly wealthy population.”

“Yet to avoid more stress on land, water and energy resources, and to ensure that all have access to adequate food, that production must be sustainable and must prioritise the poor,” he explained.

IFPRI Deputy Division Director Claudia Ringler added, “if local, national and international resource policies focus on sustainable, long-term gains, if policies are coordinated and tradeoffs among land, water and energy policies are minimized, we can strengthen and the global food system while preventing resource depletion.”

“Such a shift to sustainable food security would benefit billions of people today and many more in future decades,” she emphasised.

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