Budget policies fail food and nutrition security

Food and nutrition security is not a consequence of agricultural productivity. It will be the cause of it. It is therefore necessary to shift Kenya’s fiscal policies to address food security, before agricultural production.

Food security is not a problem of production. It is a problem of access and distribution. And, the power imbalance between who is able to do just that – access and distribute. Nothing makes this clearer than waking up to the news of hunger-related deaths in Turkana. There is food in Kenya, so why are the people of Turkana facing starvation?

It is at this time that we need to know what’s in the 2019 Budget Policy Statement (BPS), which sets out the budget policies and allocations under 'The Big Four' Agenda. The BPS 2019 unashamedly has a policy preference for industrial agriculture and the large-scale production of staples.

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In so doing, it undermines the food and nutrition security of Kenyans. First, because for the past nine years, small-scale farmers have consistently produced the bulk of Kenya’s food, accounting for over 70 per cent of the value of gross marketed production of agriculture and food.

Second, because the majority of people suffering from chronic food insecurity are small-scale farmers. The food poverty headcount rate in rural areas is 35.8 per cent (3.8 per cent greater than at national level), translating into 10.4 million Kenyans who lack adequate food. KNBS defines food poverty as individuals unable to consume the minimum daily calorific requirement of 2,250 Kilocalories (Kcal) as per expenditures on food.

The BPS 2019 budget allocations to agriculture and food production in the FY2019/20 amount to Sh52.1bn, compared to the current FY2018/19 printed estimates of Sh 45.7bn – an increase of Sh 6.4bn. However, it would be in vain to comment solely on the modest increase that agriculture is receiving without assessing where that money is being allocated.

Food security

Budget policies are silent on investments that go beyond the large-scale production of staples, towards supporting food diversity and indigenous food crops that are climate-resilient and nutritionally rich.The National Food and Nutrition Security Policy (NFNSP 2012) recognises that most Kenyans still subsist on diets based on staple crops (mainly maize) that are lacking in nutritional diversity and have particularly devastating consequences on child development. Food security therefore encompasses availability of adequate quantities diverse food commodities such as other cereals, fruits, vegetables and animal products. In the NFNSP (2012), the Government commits to promote the production of nutrient-rich foods (crops, livestock, fisheries) through food diversification.

Despite recognising the importance of knowledge and education, budget policies are silent on the question of extension services. Extension services are a critical mechanism for information dissemination and capacity building to small-scale farmers.

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With the view of supporting Kenya’s economic growth in 2019/2020 and mitigating economic risks such as adverse weather conditions or changes in the global economy, extension should focus on post-harvest management, water harvesting and storage, nutritional diversity and agro-ecological systems of farming.

Economic growth

Ironically, an agro-ecological approach to farming (which relies on using and re-using locally available natural resources) is rather akin to the fiscal consolidation plan that Treasury has emphasized in the BPS. That is to say that State Ministries, Departments and Agencies will have to adopt the culture of doing more with less that is available to promote sustainability and affordability.

Despite rising food safety concerns in the country and prioritization on environmental conservation as a “Big Four” enabler for broad-based sustainable economic growth, the widespread use of chemical pesticides and regulation thereof, is not addressed in fiscal policies. An estimated 32 per cent of pesticides banned in Europe are used in Kenya.

A proposal to address this would be to levy environmental taxes on chemical pesticides on the basis of their toxicity to the environment (land, water, air), human and animal health. This would mobilize fiscal revenues while mitigating the negative effects associated with pesticide application and encourage a shift towards environmentally and ecologically friendly agricultural systems.

As our parliamentarians go into the phase of budget review and debate, we call on them to make proposals and amendments to the country’s fiscal policy that favors small-scale farmers, keeping in mind that their first and foremost responsibility is to progressively work towards the realisation of the Constitutional Right to Food.

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Until such time as budget policies and allocations provide evidence of a changed way of thinking, meaningful political commitment to achieving 100 percent food and nutrition security for all Kenyans, remains in question.

Ms Liebetrau is the Project Lead of the Route to Food Initiative

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Big FourFood Initiativefood security