Good policies needed to attain food security

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Kenyan economy, contributing 30 per cent to GDP, but we are a food deficient country; meeting the needs of our growing population through formal and informal imports of maize as well as rice and wheat.

By the definition of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food security is a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities and quality so that nobody suffers hunger, and the food should not cause health complications resulting from quality issues.

Unbelievably, 56 year after independence, our people are still confronted by hunger; principally a rural problem because when famine strikes, it is the rural population that is most vulnerable. Food crisis causes in Kenya are many and include; high cost of farm inputs, low adoption of technology, rising prevalence of pests and diseases, climate change and variability, collapsed marketing system, and the conversion of agricultural land into other uses

We can surmount these challenges through sound implementation of the plans. It is evident from history that the severest food crises occur in countries completely unprepared for the crises and which are unable to resolve the situations without international aid. Our economic growth as envisaged in Vision 2030 can be achieved through transforming small-scale agriculture from subsistence to innovative, commercially oriented and modern agriculture.

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We need interventions that are planned on the basis of good understanding of the factors that contribute to the particular vulnerability of rural people. Planners must understand the people who produce food in this country. The bulk of them are small scale farmers and it is imperative that the implementers of government policies must show commitment and be held accountable for any shortcomings.

Nutrient malnutrition

We should venture more into value addition on foods. Potatoes and tomatoes are some of the perishable produce, but when processed, they can be available for use for long periods. This can create employment at local level and attract most of our youth. Nutrition intervention such as ‘dietary diversification’ is one of the strategies to reduce the occurrence of micro nutrient malnutrition. Consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, egg, meat, poultry, fish, readily available sources of iron, zinc, and preformed vitamin A, is often small because of economic, cultural and religious constraints.

Strategies for food and dietary diversification at the community and household levels should include a range of food-based activities that maximise the availability of adequate amounts and greater variety of nutritious foods.The aquaculture activities which we started through economic stimulus programmes ought to be revamped and we desist from importing fish and fish products from outside. Similarly, dairy farming can benefit from cotton seed cake feed formulations when cotton growing is revamped.

The high cost of production, low value addition, poor animal husbandry, recurring drought and inadequate infrastructure, among other factors, constrain the potential of livestock to contribute to the food security needs. Provision of livestock feeds, construction of water pans and off-take programmes in ASAL counties should be strategic and need not be seen as a surprise.

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Cooperative societies

As mentioned earlier, the entire Mount Kenya region grows cash crops; coffee, tea, macadamia and miraa which, in the past, helped boost the economic status of the people in the region. The collapse of cooperative societies led to poor performance in the coffee sector, impacting negatively on farmers’ abilities to purchase food items, take their children to school and pay medical bills.

Tea farmers have not been spared either. We should be asking ourselves how best we can put in place policies that would make our people realize the fruits of their labour and live a happy life. Our farmers have small holdings and their abilities to purchase inputs are hampered. With strong cooperative societies, they can pull resources and market their produce with ease. The Government must show serious commitment to reaffirm governance issues bedeviling cooperatives in Kenya. With good governance, transparency and accountability in cooperative societies, farmers can sustain themselves in agricultural activities.

In the Big Four agenda, the Government has prioritized food security and pledged to ensure all Kenyans are food secure by the year 2022 through expansion of food production and supply, reduction of food prices to ensure affordability, and through support to value addition in the food processing value chain.

The Senate passed Food Security Bill sponsored by Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen with amendments and referred to the National Assembly. This legislative framework is based on the need by the National and county governments to put in place measures and mechanisms to address food insecurity and therefore ensure that the right to food for all is realized.The Bill provides a framework and mechanisms through which the National and county governments shall fulfill their obligations in relation to food security.

The Senate has also passed Warehouse Receipt System Bill with amendments and referred it to the National Assembly. The Bill was passed by the National Assembly with amendments and referred back to the Senate for concurrence.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that food is recognised as a basic human right. The lack of or inadequate food consumption has serious implications on general body health and well-being, growth and development of the country.

Senator Ndwiga (EGH) is Chairman, Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries

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FAOGDPFood securityVision 2030Mount Kenya regionPoliciesGovernment