The past few months have seen an immense violation of Kenyans’ right to food. From mercury-laced sugar to expired rice and sub-standard cooking oil to aflatoxin-infected maize and calcium carbide-ripened fruits.
Not long ago, the lobby Consumer Downtown Association reported cases of rejected products destined for the European Union that were sold in the local market. In January, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) announced an outbreak of aflatoxin in certain maize-growing areas.
Food contamination has increased with unscrupulous traders selling such products to consumers and rogue port officials working in cahoots with cartels to clear sub-standard imported foodstuff.
Sadly, the government seems to have failed to protect its citizens in this regard.
The Kenyan food safety control system is multi-sectoral with the various Acts of Parliament implemented by different organs — such as the Health and Agriculture ministries, Kenya Bureau of Standards and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services.
The spreading of the 22 laws across different agencies makes it difficult to pinpoint who is responsible for food safety. The enactment of the National Food Safety Coordination Committee has not yielded much either. It has failed to provide information to consumers or coordinate and monitor food safety activities as mandated.
There is a compelling need for President Uhuru Kenyatta to act and end the crisis. Food safety and quality control are issues of national importance that require swift intervention. Reforms in the agencies entrusted with food safety are key in making sure that consumers have safe food that is fit for consumption.
Coordination of activities and harmonisation of the regulatory and institutional framework is essential. Further, there is a need to make the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy (2011) an Act of Parliament — providing a binding agreement between agencies and citizens.
Again, unregulated imports are pushing small-scale farmers, who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, out of the market, threatening the consumers’ right to safe food. The government ought to ensure adequate support for sustainable and safe food production methods such as ecological farming, especially among smallholder farmers.
Ecological farming does not contaminate the food or the environment with chemicals, thus ensuring local stable supply of safe and healthy food. This can be achieved through increased resource allocation, deployment of agricultural officers and providing organic farm inputs to farmers.
The President should also ensure that there are robust measures to combat impunity within the food sector and that there are regulatory provisions and clear standardisation systems that can trace supplies through the value chain.
Tuesday was World Food Day. It is time the National Food Safety Coordination Committee effectively carried out its mandate. Food safety is critical to good health, essential for the growth of the economy.
Ms Nasike is a Food For Life campaigner a Greenpeace Africa. [email protected]