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Firm action needed to transform food systems

By Alberto Leny
Tuesday, April 20th, 2021
The Plenary of United Nations Assembly in New York. Photo/COURTESY
In summary

Reports that 1.4 million Kenyans are facing starvation has again exposed our fragile food systems and the need to build greater resilience to shocks such as that caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fragile food systems left unexamined are vulnerable to collapse to the detriment of millions of people, including those threatened with extreme hunger in the affected counties. 

Many Kenyans have already experienced first-hand the threat of food insecurity during the Covid-19 crisis.

Concerns on food security are now top of the global agenda alongside the climate emergency, pollution and the threat to biodiversity and ecosystems.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will in September during the General Assembly convene the Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

The historic Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems. 

The Summit coincides with the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, underlining the gravity of the environmental emergencies threatening the earth and sustainable development.

As we look forward to the most important forum on the transformation of the world food systems this century, a new report has issued an ominous warning in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 Global Food Policy Report released last week describes 2020 as a year of crisis brought about by the pandemic, noting that the terrible loss and disruption experienced globally will continue in many places through this year and even beyond. 

It further states that increased poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, and unemployment have pushed the SDGs further out of reach for many countries. The report shines a harsh light on the disparities in our food systems.

The leadership and our agriculture decision-makers should take note of this grim warning. They must urgently implement the commitments made by African heads of state to the Maputo and Malabo declarations in our national agenda. Short-term policy responses and the global slow-down due to Covid-19 have impacted negatively on growth, value chains, incomes, trade, poverty and consumption.

As they chaperone the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the Big Four agenda, they must honour the commitments made to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budget to agriculture and rural development.

These commitments remain largely unfulfilled and is a major factor to the perennial reports of “acute” food insecurity and “emergency” levels of acute hunger. The commitments anchor the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme  - the framework for action for agricultural transformation.  It aims to achieve more than 6% agricultural growth rates to promote food security and economic development.

The targets include ending hunger, tripling intra-African trade in agricultural goods and services, enhancing resilience of livelihoods and production systems, and ensuring that agriculture contributes significantly to poverty reduction.

 Food system refers to activities involved in producing, processing, transporting and consuming food. Food systems touch every aspect of human existence - the health of our bodies, environment, economies and cultures. 

Agrifood planning must therefore better anticipate risks and preparedness for shocks. They should encourage public, private partnerships to expand limited fiscal resources that embrace inclusion and promote good governance and accountability, in all parts of the food system. [email protected]

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