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Get food systems right to curb hunger and grow our economy

OPINION
By Stephen Jackson | September 11th 2021

Interior CS Dr Fred Matiang'i distributing food and non-foodstuff to families displaced due to the insecurity at Ol Moran area in Laikipia county on September 10, 2021.[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

We seldom consider what it takes to get food onto our plates. From “farm to table,” many of us remain oblivious to the complex chain of actors and processes in-between. 

The food system involves many actors in different stages of transportation, processing, distribution, storage and retail. Get these systems right, and they drive economic growth.  Kenya’s export-oriented agriculture sector employs three-quarters of the workforce and produces one-quarter of annual GDP.

At the same time, the global climate emergency means many of Kenya’s counties are afflicted by recurrent droughts and elevated levels of under-nutrition. The impact is water shortage, severe vegetation deficit, malnutrition in children, inadequate pasture resulting in low milk production, further worsening nutrition status. Today, 12 of 23 ASAL counties are already in drought alert.

Globally, our planet is producing and consuming record amounts of food. Yet  700 million people still go hungry. Food technologies have advanced, but we are still grappling with unsustainable high greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector and food wastage.  Post-harvest loss, in particular, is a huge challenge.

Other disruptions in the food system include shocks to climate change, inequalities that limit people’s access to food and storage problem.  Getting food systems right is, simply, indispensable to sustainable development. That’s why UN Secretary-General Antònio Guterres has called a global “Food Systems Summit” on September 23, 2021. Governments, civil society, the private sector, and people worldwide will be caucusing together to leverage food systems to drive solutions to global challenges of hunger, climate emergency, poverty and inequality. The summit will give an opportunity not just to global leaders but to farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, and everyone involved in the food chain to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food.

The Kenyan government is committed to transforming its food systems. That commitment is clear from Vision 2030 and the “Big Four Agenda” (which makes Food and Nutrition Security for all Kenyans a national priority).

Kenya’s Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy represents goverment’s commitment to increase productivity, boost incomes in agribusiness and ensure household resilience and food security, placing farmers at the centre to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs).

Leading up to the summit, the Ministry of Agriculture and UN Kenya held a series of regional, national and international dialogues to offer Kenyans an opportunity to contribute directly to the summit’s ambitious vision and objectives. These dialogues have been bringing together a rich diversity of stakeholders.  Deliberately, they included voices seldom heard and provided an important opportunity for participants to debate, collaborate, and plan action towards a better future. UN Kenya will continue supporting government in short and long term to ensure the food systems are strengthened.  We’re supporting small holder farmers with credit facilitation, capacity development and access to markets.

We’re supporting cash transfers to vulnerable people along the supply chain - especially refugees and host communities. We’re promoting home-grown school meals, connecting local farmers to the supply chain of school meals programmes.  And we’re supporting fortification initiatives that help communities access locally produced nutritious food. On drought management and climate emergency mitigation, UN Kenya is supporting local production of short cycle and drought tolerant seed varieties.

Our “SDG Partnership Platform” brings together partners, innovative financing and investments to drive “profit for purpose” across the “Big Four Agenda”.

We’re confident that accelerating opportunities in food production, agro-processing and other possibilities across diverse value chains around crops, livestock and fisheries will help provide Kenyans profitable yet sustainable livelihoods. 

Just as food brings people together, strengthening food systems will get us closer to a more prosperous, inclusive Kenya. Come, claim Kenya’s reserved place at the global table and let’s continue to dialogue together about our food systems! 

 @SWJacksonUN

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