On food security we must put our money where our mouths are

Wednesday April 10 2019

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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The food security question in Africa, especially in the sub-Sahara, has not been answered for decades. It is therefore surprising when fellow Kenyans act shocked that there are starving people in the drier northern parts of Kenya.

Many people in Africa, including Kenya, are food insecure which means they suffer from either starvation, undernutrition or one form of hunger or another. Though under nourishment has decreased in children in Africa according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, still the number of children who suffer stunted growth grew from 45 million in 1990 to 53 million in 2016.

It is also quite inexplicable that Africa has 60 percent of the world’s available arable land, but only contributes 10 percent of global agricultural output. What is wrong with us? Africa, lags behind in agricultural productivity and investment and has urban-biased policies, which, of course, do not support or auger well with the available primary asset – arable land. Due to these and other mottled reasons, other regions in the world have been able to eradicate famine, but not Africa.

This essentially means that as Kenyans we suffer from or associate with people who suffer undernutrition or hunger in some form. It therefore makes no sense for us to stumble over each other, when some pictures of emaciated people are captured and circulated on social media. We mobilise fundraisers, send each other on guilt trips such as 'Kenya for Kenyans' and generally fall into the trap of a non-productive frenzy not based on solutions. As a general rule such funds would be put to better use feeding hungry children in our midst.

This will in the long run reduce the number of people suffering from stunted growth, defined by the World Health Organization as the impaired development, experienced due to lack of proper nutrition, adequate psychosocial stimulation and repeated infections. The effects of this in later life is low productivity and educational performance. In instances where such children get enough nutrition as adults, excessive weight gain increases the risk of chronic diseases.

KENYANS FOR KENYA

Kenyans can be congratulated this year for resisting the emotional blackmail that makes them give millions in the name of hunger, which persists anyway. It is also important to note that agricultural contribution to the GDP has been on the decline, along with actual food production and employment in that sector. The solutions to hungry Kenyans, therefore is not donations, but a holistic refocus on agriculture, value addition of traditional food crops and the government rethinking its role in food storage and distribution.

If 60 percent of our population are the youth, but there is no emphasis in agriculture, not as a career, not as a degree course or even an employment option, where exactly do we expect food to come from? Are we expecting the aging 40 percent of the population to feed these numbers? The youth remain the largest non-state actor to ensuring future food security.

Kenya has a better chance of dealing with the vicious cycle of drought, famine, starvation and death by putting in place policies that improve the productivity of small scale farmers, for example in ways to optimise yields while maintaining the ecosystem. Many underestimate the role of small scale farmers in a majority of counties in ensuring adequate food supply. We have not heard of counties that are driving this agenda.

VALUE ADDITION

The fact that Kenyan farmers still sell much of their produce in raw form also denies them the much-needed revenue, making agriculture look not so lucrative. Food crops such as bananas and cassavas and fruits like mangoes, can be easily dried to add value to small scale produce.

Government economic policies influence food distribution and stimulate an efficient, productive and effective agricultural sector. Rational government involvement in agriculture, including in education, results in better food production and overall nutrition. It is the responsibility of the government to provide adequate and safe storage in times of surplus and to avail information to farmers and consumers. Yet all we have heard is a now-forgotten cry on how Kenya has turned all her arable land into real estate forests. Who exactly is expected to live in these overpriced real estate mammoths when there are Kenyans in 2019 who are threatened by death from hunger?

Meanwhile, Kenya has sunk almost Sh8 billion in Galana-Kulalu, an agricultural food security project intended in vision 2030, which placed the responsibility of food production on none Kenyans and ended up with little.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa