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UK working with Kenya for a more sustainable future

By | June 19th 2009

R Macaire, A Fernie

At least one in ten Kenyans is facing chronic hunger. That startling figure should not be forgotten as people discuss the food crisis. Whether it is due to the global economic crisis, increased food prices, drought, high input costs or maize scandals, the outcome is the same: People are struggling to find enough food for even one meal a day.

So, we are using our national day, held today in honour of the Queen’s birthday, to widen awareness of issues of food security and livelihoods.

As well as the traditional hospitality for those we work with across a range of interests, we will be showcasing some of the wonderful work that Kenyan and British organisations are doing together to help communities facing poverty and hunger.

The UK’s Department for International Development remains committed to addressing the most urgent humanitarian needs through emergency food aid. In the last year, we have given more than Sh1.2 billion (through World Food Programme) in response to the local food crisis. But food donations are not a long-term answer. We believe Kenya can improve food security through tailored programmes. For instance, DFID is helping to mitigate farmers’ risks through support to crop and livestock insurance, improving access to agricultural credit and helping develop off-farm jobs.

More widely, with partners like the World Bank and Unicef, we are supporting the Kenya Government to develop a long-term social protection system. This includes helping draft a national social protection policy and developing cash transfer programmes to the poorest Kenyans. This is an important step in securing Vision 2030.

Real impact on poverty

Social protection allows people to have a sustainable and predictable income. Through it, as governments in countries like Brazil and South Africa have shown, poverty and hunger can be tackled with real impact.

The main component of DFID’s Sh16 billion scheme to develop social protection in Kenya is a Hunger Safety Net Programme, financed through a grant of Sh9 billion over ten years. It operates by providing a regular, predictable and guaranteed amount of cash — enough to buy basic foods — to chronically hungry households in arid and semi-arid lands. Over 70 per cent of the population in the targeted areas in the North and North-East live below the poverty line. Sixty per cent have survived on emergency food aid for over a decade. Cash transfers will reduce aid dependency and hunger, allowing households to buy food all year round, without having to sell assets to do so. Protecting their assets and cushioning them against shocks will promote resilient livelihoods.

While it is early, this model seems successful and we hope the Government will adopt and scale it up. At the very least it is a good step in securing longer-term investment and moving away from costly ad hoc humanitarian responses. DFID is working with the Ministry for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands to integrate the scheme into their strategy.

Of course, we are aware food security is just one of the challenges facing the Government. We will continue to do everything we can, together with European Union partners and others, to support work on these, including the implementation of the agreed reform agenda. But we know any government’s primary responsibility is to protect its people from severe threats like chronic hunger.

The problem is predictable and we can meet it, together, with predictable resources. With the allocation for social protection in last week’s Budget, the Government has shown its intent to build this into a strategic approach to tackling poverty and hunger. The UK and Kenya share a commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals. Cutting poverty and hunger, the first goal, is an area where our national interests coincide.

Britain’s links with Kenya on many issues will remain broad and deep. One of our most vital partnerships will remain in the area of overcoming poverty. And as our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has made clear, the UK’s commitment will remain steadfast despite the global recession.

Rob Macaire is the British High Commissioner. Alistair Fernie is the Head of DFID Kenya and Somalia.

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