How Kenya can strengthen food security systems

Friday, July 28th, 2023 12:21 | By
Maize silo
Maize silo. PHOTO/Print

The world, including Kenya is in Rome this week “taking stock” of the achievements of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) 2021.

The UNFSS came as an accelerator for the achievement of SDG Goal 2 of Zero Hunger. It embraces the new understanding that food issues are multi-dimensional and therefore require multi-sectoral approaches to address.

The UNFSS and the resulting “food systems” re-energized what were otherwise dying hopes of ever achieving #ZeroHunger.

While the conversation has changed among key actors, from agriculture and food security to the colourful “food systems,” there is very little to show it terms of real action.

The truth of the matter is, there is just too much talk! We need action. Kenya needs action now to reduce the impact of climate change on rural producers. We need action on child malnutrition to further reduce the current 18 per cent stunting rate to zero. We need action on prices of food and safety.

The solutions to all these problems do not lie with government, private sector, civil society or academia. We need all actors on the table to address the urgent food systems problems Kenya is facing. To bring together the different actors in a coordinated approach, we need to put in place better food systems governance structures.

With the complex nature of food systems, competing interests and demands, numerous actors and processes, only good governance can bring forth the possibility to effectively steer the process for any positive change or transformation. In understanding governance, it is important to understand the important role everyone plays in steering the process. All stakeholders are endowed with resources – social, political and capital – that can have a significant impact in holding everyone accountable and ensuring sustainable transformation.

A strong food systems governance framework will entail key ingredients. First, all Kenyan actors including the average producer and consumer need to be bound by a common vision. This vision needs to be co-created by all the actors, not only government or a few powerful actors.

Co-creation brings ownership. Common vision does not discredit the fact that different actors have different perspectives and interests.

Secondly, strong, visionary leadership is important in providing the necessary political, social as well as technical guidance towards sustainable food systems transformation. Looking at the Kenyan context, leadership of the food systems transformation agenda no doubt needs to go beyond the Ministry of Agriculture.

There is also a growing feeling among stakeholders that there is too much talk and less action. As a result of a result of lack of clear roles and responsibilities and accountability mechanisms, many workshops and conferences end with very robust conversations about key food systems issues but without any clear actionable roadmap.

So far, there are no mechanisms to address systemic issues of critical urgency such as biodiversity and agroecosystems health restoration and conservation, consumer education, extension services, food systems knowledge and information management systems just to mention a few.

The role of government as the ultimate custodian of power and regulatory authority as well its obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfilment of the Human Right to Adequate Food for all as per the ICESR should remain sacred.

Inclusive food systems governance in the Kenya context implies providing equitable opportunities for engagement and addressing the needs of all stakeholders from the rich, influential actors to the poor and marginalised communities.

To achieve this, we need to strengthen the coordination of food systems actors and activities in Kenya. At the moment, the ATO is the most viable mechanism available to bring together all stakeholders in a coordinated and sustained multi-stakeholder approach to food systems transformation. Strengthening of the ATO is one of the possible approaches to enhancing coordination of food systems transformation.

The voices of consumers who struggle with high food prices, producers who face many challenges with little reward and vulnerable groups are still not adequately heard in the food systems conversations.
— Atamba is a food systems consultant while Schindler is Senior Research Associate at TMG Research

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