Safeguard food systems in face of climate crisis

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 00:00 | By
GMO foods. Photo/Courtesy

Food is essential for human survival. Yet, our food system faces numerous threats raging from climate change, degrading natural ecosystems, biodiversity loss and population pressure.

This undermines our ability to feed our current and threatens the substance of future generations. This is happening at a time when the world is experiencing numerous socio-economic challenges such as the war in Ukraine, increase in food prices and conflicts in some countries, especially in the Horn of Africa.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, an estimated 45 million children under five years of age suffer from wasting – a form of malnutrition that increases risk of death by up to 12 times  – and 149 million have stunted growth and development.

IFRC estimates that 3.2 million people in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) are severely food insecure due to the failed rains which is predicted to get worse as drier than normal conditions have been forecasted for October-December 2022.

Over 80 per cent of Kenya is ASALs and the majority of the economic sectors are climate sensitive. In August 2022, Kenya’s annual inflation hit 8.3 per cent pushing the cost of food even higher. This means the vulnerable rural communities continue to suffer. Women and children suffer the most as access to food is constrained due to the failed harvests, livestock deaths and economic challenges. Harmful gender norms prevent women and children from realising the right to nutritious food. Women carry the main responsibility for food production and access, yet they are likely eat last and least.

Our ability to address the food crisis will determine whether we can sustain human existence beyond the current generation. Young people have a big role to play and need to be empowered to take action.

What should we do? To counter these effects, we all need to work together to ensure a world free of hunger. There is a need to increase our focus on adaptation and resilience especially for smallholder farmers and rural communities. There is need to move from reactive climate responses to more proactive long-term efforts that will build resilience of the communities’ livelihoods and a stable agriculture sector.

Sustainable and climate smart agricultural practices that are pegged on agroecological principles which offer solutions to climate change impacts; can empower communities especially smallholder farmers, pastoralists and agropastoralists, address gender inequalities and boost ecosystem services. Tried and tested cost-effective practices such as agroforestry does not only offer a safe climate change mitigation strategy but also creates income and provides nutritious food for households whilst empowering small holder farmer families out of poverty.

It is also important for Kenya to faithfully implement the Maputo Declaration on agriculture which calls for allocation of at least 10 per cent of the budget to the sector.

In the 2021 budget, the government allocated only 3.2 per cent of the budget to agriculture which falls way below the 10 per cent commitment. A lot remains to be done to ensure that smallholder farmers and their livelihood systems are resilient to climate change impacts. Commitment on irrigation including small-scale irrigation, crop and livestock insurance, provision of subsidised agriculture inputs such as seeds must become a reality for smallholder farmers.

Disaster risk reduction and management is also an area of concern, recovery after a disaster such as the current drought that leaves the landscapes bare and humans broken is a necessity to smallholder farmers and the rural communities.

Interventions should work towards restoring human dignity and providing homegrown solutions to the disasters. Investments in developing people’s capacity to deal with disasters should also be prioritised whilst applying a gender lens. Consequently, we need to go beyond the environmental dimension of the climate crisis to look into socio-political aspects of climate change.

Our leaders must understand the local challenges and be willing to escalate them to national, regional and global levels- the voices of smallholder farmers and rural communities must be amplified. Internationally, adaptation financing as promised during COP 26 must be actualised to support the most vulnerable in their effort to adapt to the effects of climate crisis. Locally, fairness must prevail in access to sharing and utilisation of resources.

The voices of women, children and youth must be heard, and our development work must be inclusive. During the upcoming COP27 in Egypt- “The African COP”, our leaders should push for double funding for adaptation, resilience, and disaster risk reduction as we work towards realising sustainable development.

—The writers work for Vi Agroforestry

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