This Opinion Peace was first published in the Standard Newspaper
We seldom consider what it takes to get the food we eat onto our plates. From “farm to table”, many of us remain oblivious to the complex chain of actors and processes in-between.
The complex food system which includes transportation, processing, distribution, storage and nutrition involves different actors at every stage. Get these systems right and they drive economic growth. Kenya’s export-oriented agriculture sector employs almost three-quarters of the workforce and produces one quarter of annual GDP. At the same time, the global Climate Emergency means that many of Kenya’s counties are afflicted by recurrent droughts and elevated levels of under-nutrition. As of today, 12 of 23 ASAL counties are already in Drought Alert. The impact is water shortage, severe vegetation deficit, malnutrition in children, inadequate pasture resulting in low milk production, further worsening nutrition status.
Globally, our planet is producing and consuming record amounts of food. Yet globally, 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 from food wastage. Post-harvest loss, in particular, is a huge challenge in Kenya and elsewhere. Other disruptions in the food system include shocks to climate change, inequalities that limit people’s access to the food they need 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 23 September 2021. Governments, civil society, the private sector, and people worldwide will be caucusing together to leverage food systems to drive solutions to the 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 Government of Kenya 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 the GoK’s commitment to increasing productivity, boosting incomes in agribusiness and ensuring household resilience and food security, placing farmers at the center to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs).
Leading up to the Summit, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives 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 both in the short and long term to ensure the food systems are strengthened and effectively managed. 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. These help farmers produce crops even during drought. With our partners, we’re helping county governments rehabilitate or build new water reservoirs, helping farmers restock their herds and promoting cash-for-work programmes.
And with huge, longterm potential, UN Kenya is helping broker breakthrough partnerships between public and private sector actors in agriculture and agribusiness. 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 identifying and 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 achieving truly sustainable development and a still 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!