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Gloomy future for Kenya food security

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 14 – Kenya could be headed for a crisis if the current food insecurity persists, according to a new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI).

Concern Worldwide Kenya Country Director, Ann O’Mahony said on Wednesday that the increasing food prices had led people to use different coping strategies which could worsen the situation.

Ms O’Mahony said this was especially so in urban slums where people had resulted to buying bulkier cheaper foods that didn’t have the full nutritional value particularly for children.

“We have seen other coping strategies being introduced. Children are being taken out of school, we have seen a reduction in clinic attendance and we have seen other high risk activities increasing like transactional sex with children getting more and more involved in the sex industry as they try to earn extra income for their families,” she said.

IFRI senior fellow and program leader Dr Suresh Babu said the 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI) had seen a need for governments to empower women and girls to reduce food insecurity.

“We need to reduce the gender disparity and that can substantially contribute to reducing hunger. That requires investing in women’s health, improving their nutrition and reducing the gender gaps in terms of the economic participation and finally we need to work on the legal reforms such as making land available to women,” Dr Babu stated.

The GHI showed that worldwide progress in reducing hunger remained slow falling by only a quarter from the 1990 GHI.

It showed that Southeast Asia, the Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean had reduced hunger significantly since 1990, but it remained alarmingly high in South Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa where progress was marginal.

“The importance of global hunger and documenting it is to bring out where a country stands in terms of global scale in relation to other countries that are comparable in economic development .In order to have a broad set of policies you need to know where you stand in the global scale,” Dr Babu said.

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However some countries achieved noteworthy progress in improving their GHI. Between the 1990 GHI and the 2009 GHI, Kuwait, Tunisia, Fiji, Malaysia, and Turkey had the largest percentage improvements.

Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Vietnam saw the largest absolute improvements in their scores.

But 29 countries had levels of hunger that were alarming or extremely alarming. The countries with the highest 2009 GHI scores were Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone.

The report indicated that in most of the countries with high GHI scores, war and violent conflict had given rise to widespread poverty and food insecurity. Nearly all of the countries in which the GHI rose since 1990 were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“To me this whole global financial crisis has been a big eye opener and we have seen over the last six months to a year, billions and billions of dollars being poured into aiding ailing banks and institutions in the west. If you could take even a fraction of this and look at addressing poverty in many of these countries that are in the pink or red (alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger) on the index map, they would have enormous benefit,” said Ms O’Mahony.

“The sad thing is that in the millennium development goals we talked about 800 million people worldwide going to bed hungry, they talk about halving that number by the year 2015 which is around the corner and already the numbers are going up,” she added.

The research was done in 120 countries with the key hunger indicators used being child mortality, underweight children under five years and proportion of population that was undernourished.

“Hunger is an issue that is affected by many factors and one of them is gender inequality. This year we are focusing on gender inequality, the status of women and the level at which they are empowered in each of the countries and see whether there is some relationship between hunger as an indicator of welfare of the people and the gender inequality,” Dr Suresh Babu said.

The report recommended that social protection strategies be designed to mitigate the current shock for the most vulnerable, lay the foundation for sustainable recovery, and prevent negative impacts in the future.

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It also called for strengthening of nutrition interventions, such as school feeding programs and those for early childhood and maternal nutrition to ensure universal coverage.

“If you analyse poverty there are a whole range of potential solutions the first being the will to address it. It’s going to take many years to change the gender disparity but there has to be a start somewhere,” said Ms O’Mahony.


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