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Ending hunger a reality or just another mirage?

By Eliud Owalo | January 23rd 2018 at 10:32:38 GMT +0300

Among the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Goal 2 seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. How one prays that this  goal can come to pass – for, hunger is one of the most unfortunate incapacitations in the world; as it dehumanizes mankind, makes one desperate, and if not mitigated, leads to very excruciating death through malnutrition.

No wonder many have been prosecuted for engaging in crime, particularly theft in search of food. Recall that even the Holy Bible says we should forgive those who steal to quench hunger. Indeed, it is by nature of its importance that food security is ranked second among SDGs.

The SDG on food security seeks to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030, a tall order given the rising world population, the increasing incidences of drought and other environmental calamities, partially attributed to global warming.

Not just ugali

A critical look, therefore, at the UN’s  target of realizing food security and proper nutrition by 2030 begs a lot of questions. Indeed, one may perhaps ponder what miracle(s) can be performed to realize food security goal that has been perennially elusive.

On a more practical level, the question to ask is - how effective will local plans in this regard be and will the plans be translated into viable and executable strategies and programs in line with the globally spelt out approaches for accomplishing the SDG on ending hunger?

Are we  able to, among other things, double agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, ensure sustainable food production systems and progressively improve land and soil quality?

Therefore, as concerted efforts are made to ensure that all Kenyans are fed - and not just with ugali – but with food varieties that improve their nutritional levels, we must at the onset evaluate and address the challenges that hinder greater growth of the sub-sectors that produce foodstuffs for Kenyans, key among them being crop and livestock husbandry on one hand and fishing and aquaculture on the other.

The phrase that “agriculture is the back-bone of the economy” has grown with the country since independence and it conspicuously appears in almost all Government policy documents and development blueprints. Unfortunately, we have never been able to re-engineer agriculture into a high and sustainable growth trajectory, hence the perennial inability to realize food security in the country.

For example, looking back in the last five years, the 2017 Economic Survey indicates that the contribution of crops, animal production and fishing and aquaculture sub-sector were representative of the oscillating nature of the performance of food producing in the country.

What to do

In the circumstance, Kenya must take more innovative, radical and integrated approaches to tackling food insecurity as well as improving nutrition level. As a first key measure, it is critical to engage all actors – farmers; agri-food businesses; the private sector; civil society and other stakeholders - so as to effectively assume their respective roles and contribute to the national food security targets.

Indeed, if we as a Country fail to provide a mechanism for engagement, then the rich views, skills and experience of key stakeholders in the food production sub-sectors will not inform the strategies that will be formulated and subsequently deployed, a sure first step to failure.

We should also be alive to the fact that agriculture is a largely devolved function and dominates economic activity in the rural areas. This calls for well collaborated approaches of the National and County Governments to promote rural transformation and improve urban–rural linkages, critical aspects for enhancing food and nutrition security.

For this reason, the two levels of Government need to target investments in infrastructure, in food systems capable of delivering safe, sustainable and nutritious food to the markets, and in expanding economic opportunity for rural and peri-urban populations along the supply chain.

We must also appreciate that nations that are food secure have invested heavily in research and subsidization programs for food production inputs. Generally, research in agriculture and other sectors in Kenya is underfunded. Subsidy programs are also largely adhoc and reactive to drought situations. This largely explains why food production sectors are either static or retrogressing.

The situation has been worsened by increasing pressure on arable and grazing land, which has culminated to conflicts amongst communities in various parts of the country. Addressing these challenges calls for more commitment of additional resources on research to inform innovation and creativity that can facilitate new farming tools and methods, promote new agricultural practices that provide more consistent yields, improve sustainability, conserve water and soils, maintain or increase biodiversity, or improve resilience to droughts and floods.

Apart from research, food production programmes which can meet the food and nutrition demands for all Kenyans require huge amounts of resources. This will remain a major constraint if the country is unable to finance the food production programmes in the wake of competing needs, over-commitment of resources in numerous infrastructural projects, a quickly narrowing debt space and underperformance of domestic revenues.

Finally, and very important, is how we will overcome the challenges of capacity, ethics and poor work culture among public servants entrusted with implementing the programmes that are expected to deliver food and nutritional security to Kenyans. We need decisive, innovative and radical measures to make the country a more food-secure nation.

Mr Owalo is a Management Consultant

United Nations food security agriculture
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