NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 22 – Recurring food insecurity in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) counties amid mass production of the staple in the country’s food baskets has reignited debate on the government’s commitment towards 100 per cent food and nutrition security, a key pillar under the 2018-2022 development roadmap christened the Big Four Agenda.
According to Layla Liebetrau, Project Lead with Route to Food Initiative, a lobby group championing for the right in the country, non-aligned policies on food and nutrition security continue to hinder the attainment of freedom from hunger, a right guaranteed under Article 43 of the Constitution.
“The biggest problem that Kenya is facing is that the problem of food security has been wrongly defined because the argument is that there isn’t enough food in the country so we need to increase production. The challenge however that food security is an income problem – can I afford to have food that is available in the market?” Liebetrau told Capital FM News on Friday.
Article 43 (1) (b) guarantees every Kenyan citizen “the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.
The Constitution also obligates the State under Article 43 (3) to provide “appropriate social security to persons who are unable to support themselves and their dependents.”
Upscaling of food production by the government, according to Liebetrau, will not lead to the realisation of food security in the country unless government policies support are reviewed to support small-scale food production in rural areas where the food poverty rate is estimated at 36 per cent, four percentage points above the national average.
“Increasing food production through agricultural development doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of people being able to afford food. We’re looking at increasing the production of staples assuming that somehow the people who are suffering in Turkana and other food insecure areas are suddenly going to afford food,” she remarked.
Liebetrau said current fiscal policies emphasise on large-scale agricultural production which to a great extent favours the production of cash crops for export market, a policy direction she noted had incrementally led sidelined small-scale farmers who produce a significant amount of food for the local market.
She noted that despite the progressive increase in budgetary allocations to the agriculture sector, there was need to make a deliberate investment in extension services in order to support small-scale farmers.
“If you look at agricultural policies Kenya is pursuing, they are all looking at an industrial model of agriculture and large-scale production of staples and that is problematic if the goal is to achieve food security,” Liebetrau stated.
The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security defines food defines food security as physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food meeting food preferences of individuals and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
The current food insecurity in Kenya is estimated to be affecting at least 1.1 million with 865,000 in ASAL counties of Samburu, Marsabit, Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Baringo, Kilifi, Tana River, West Pokot, Makueni, Kajiado, and Kwale.
The National Government on Monday last week announced a Sh2 billion funding to facilitate ongoing food relief programs and water trucking in the 13 counties facing food scarcity.
Deputy President William Ruto announced the release of an additional Sh12.4 billion set to be dispersed to some 1.3 million vulnerable persons including the elderly through a cash transfer program under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.
Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Secretary-General Abbas Gullet on Thursday announced a Sh824,554,720 drought appeal to respond to famine-related emergencies in seventeen counties including Nyeri, Embu, and Tharaka Nithi.
According to Gullet the interventions would include cash transfers, food distribution, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene programs.
Government agencies monitoring the unfolding famine have dismissed reports of deaths even as leaders in hardest hit counties including Baringo and Turkana insist hunger-related deaths have been recorded.
National Drought Management Authority Chief Executive Officer, James Oduor, last week said a prior advisory had been issued to facilitate timely response by both levels of government.
“Yes, deaths have been reported. But the reports we’ve gotten from our multi-agency team on ground have not linked the reported deaths directly to drought. We’re not where we were in 2017. We’re not in an emergency,” Oduor stressed.