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Why a shared vision is key to securing Kenya's food systems

OPINION
By Winnie Yegon | October 7th 2021

Food sold at Tuskys Supermarket [David Njaaga, Standard]

Collaborations, partnerships and synergies are key drivers through which the Kenyan food system can achieve transformative growth. Food is affected and affects other sectors of the economy. As such, issues about food cannot be managed through a silo approach.

The linkages from input sourcing, production, processing and marketing involve multiple players who are not necessarily directly linked to food production, but who have a profound influence on food and nutrition security.

Therefore, it is vital to address challenges and gaps in the agriculture sector through implementation of programmes informed by policy and strategic frameworks developed after engagement with stakeholders across various sectors.

Looking at the agriculture sector growth and transformation strategy flagships, some of the key drivers include creating an enabling environment through the right policy frameworks, application of digital tools, inclusion of all groups especially the marginalised, as well as ensuring sustainability in relation to the environment. Research into and industrialisation of the sector are also critical.

The key players of Kenya’s food system transformation are to be found across government ministries and private sector institutions. As such, expertise to address the challenges within the food system ought to be sourced through inter-ministerial and cross-cutting collaborations. Solutions to challenges in one sector can be found through actions of another. As policies and interventions are developed, it will be important to embrace cross-sector engagement.

However, while deliberate inclusion is advisable, we should acknowledge that different players have different interests. It is, therefore, important to develop a common goal and shared vision that all sectors can rally behind. Ultimately, the food system is a shared one that is embedded in a shared space in terms of policy, economic, legal, natural and social environments.

With a well-structured framework and a shared vision, different players can appreciate their roles and how they contribute to and within the system as clear lines of collaboration are crafted.

The challenges faced in the food system cannot be solved by one player. When we look at these challenges, such as low farm productivity, weak market linkages, low investments, information asymmetry and misinformation, low profitably, diet-related health challenges, low interest by the youth, poor storage facilities and scarce agro-processing facilities among others, then we see that these challenges do not belong to one particular sector. Rather, we have gaps and leakages across various parts of the wider food system, from land degradation and climate change to weak regulatory frameworks.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also created new bottlenecks. This has reinforced the need to rethink how our food system works. The ripple effects of the pandemic cut across several sectors, for instance affecting the hospitality industry, widening the gender divide and increasing the need for digital and technological innovations in the food system.

It has also disrupted the transport sector and negatively impacted access to food. For instance, the price as well as consumption of food were affected negatively. Therefore, while building back, it will be important that all relevant actors are engaged in the transformation journey of our food system.

Recent dialogues that have been taking place as a build-up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit have confirmed the need for a multisectoral approach in addressing food and nutrition security. During these engagements, heads of State and dignitaries have echoed the need to build back better for inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems. This vision is anchored on key drivers, such as technology, youth inclusion, gender equity, sustainable production and consumption, as well as private sector engagement.

In particular, action points highlighted in Kenya’s position paper following the national dialogues highlight pathways that are diverse in terms of sectors. With clear roles outlined in the pathways, engagement with relevant stakeholders - from multi-sectoral government actors, financial institutions, research and academia, value chain actors, civil society, UN agencies and development partners - it is important that a clearly defined working mechanism that will ensure a common vision is maintained.

However, the transformation process does not end at the UN Summit. Rather, how well the country implements the declarations and agreed actions will define what success will look like. Therefore, all stakeholders that have collaborated to birth this common vision should work together, more so post-deliberations, and forge a united front. Kenya has only one food system. With structured coordination and well-defined roles, the roll out of the proposed interventions will go a long way in transforming Kenya’s into the food system we want.

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