The UN Food Systems Summit – Voices from around the Globe - Kenya

Nairobi, 26 August 2021 - 

Kenya will take part in historic United Nations Food Systems Summit.

In September this year, the UN Secretary General will convene the first ever UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), a historic moment for centring food in many critical issues facing people all over our planet today: from hunger and malnutrition; to environment and nature; to livelihoods and human rights; to resilience to shocks and stresses like Covid 19 and the climate emergency. 

Kenya has seen good progress against some malnutrition indicators, for instance in lowering rates of under-five stunting to around 26%. But this figure remains high, while hiding large variation across different population groups. Like other middle-income countries, Kenya also faces a complex battle against malnutrition in all its forms, with a growing obesity and diet-related non-communicable disease burden together with continuing high levels of undernutrition.

At the same time, large parts of the country are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with hazards like heat waves, droughts, and disrupted weather patterns threatening rainfed agriculture and linked livelihoods. 

As the milestone of the UNFSS pre-summit has passed, we reflect on Kenya’s engagement so far.

Market in Kenya

Kenya also faces a complex battle against malnutrition in all its forms, with a growing obesity and diet-related non-communicable disease burden together with continuing high levels of undernutrition. © Unsplash / photosbybecks

At the national level, Kenya joins over 125 countries that have embarked on coordinating efforts for inclusive, multistakeholder Food Systems Summit Dialogues to engage around the vision of the ‘people’s summit’. All over the world, countries have been holding – and in some cases continue to hold – national and sub-national dialogues to surface and prioritise needs and actions. These convenings bring stakeholders from different areas of public sector, national and subnational, representing ministries like agriculture, food, health, and environment together with private sector players like food industry bodies or small and medium-sized enterprises; together with UN agency representatives from the likes of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); together with academics and representatives from international and national Non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations (NGOs and CSOs);  and finally and very crucially, together with representatives of stakeholders from groups with voices that too often go unheard – women’s groups, consumer groups, young people, indigenous people, and farmer organisations. 

Kenya’s UNFSS Dialogues: Raising awareness, connecting stakeholders, prioritising actions 

Kenya’s member state convenor for the UNFSS dialogues hails from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries & Cooperatives, emphasising the importance of both crop and animal production here. Eight subnational dialogues have been held in the eight regional economic blocs of Kenya, with the final national dialogue to be held mid-August.  

These have helped to unearth similarities and differences in priorities by region. A number of independent dialogues around the country have also helped focus on areas in need of particular attention. GAIN has provided technical input to help frame dialogues and been present at several, including supporting a critical independent dialogue focused on women in food systems, in collaboration with Dr. Jemimah Njuki, UNFSS Custodian for Gender and Women’s Empowerment, which raised the need to centre gender equity in our search for sustainable food systems solutions. 

While the dialogue process is ongoing, what stands out is how valuable it is to get unusual combinations of stakeholders together to discuss these challenges. New connections are being forged that will hopefully yield sustainable collaborations around solution areas that will be taken forward at national and county levels. 

Emerging priorities for Kenya

A national dialogue to capture priorities from those already undertaken is scheduled to take place mid-August. However, from the different sub-national and independent dialogues held, it is possible to highlight some nine emerging priority areas so far: 

Firstly, Policy and Regulatory Frameworks for Sustainable Food Systems. There is a need for policies that support climate smart solutions, reduce post-harvest losses, encourage and spur value addition and agro-processing. National policies must also be aligned with the County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP) agricultural policies at the county level, to bring greater policy coherence and harmonization between county and national government levels. Furthermore, inclusivity in policy development is needed. Community-members, youth, women, people living with disabilities and multistakeholder engagement in policy making should be undertaken to ensure development of responsive policies. A final highlight under this topic is the need to strengthen the policy environment to enhance and protect agricultural land and geospatial planning.

Secondly, Food and Nutrition. Kenya’s hunger score is 23.7%, far above the global average of 18.2% (GHI 2020 report). Apart from that Kenya also suffers from the triple burden of malnutrition. 
Intervention areas include: Value addition to reduce post-harvest losses; Nutrition education to promote dietary diversity not forgetting the children; Creating awareness of existing nutrition development programmes; Promotion of kitchen gardens to improve vegetable consumption; Routine cleaning of markets and food inspectors to be deployed to inspect the quality of food produce and products; and Investment in cold storage facilities to prevent food from being contaminated or spoiled. 

Thirdly, Climate change and crop diversification. Climate variability and change continue to slow down efforts to increase agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security. There is a need to adopt interventions such as alternative seed varieties that de-risk crop failure, water harvesting and irrigation.

Fourthly, Financing. An adequate budgetary allocation and establishment of sustainable finance models for agriculture and nutrition activities is needed. For existing initiatives to be scaled up to the last mile and new initiatives to be developed, financing is crucial. Financing can range from organizing farmers into cooperatives and groupings to enable them to pool their resources, to the creation of financial institutions that give loans at low interest or interest-free, to governments and private sector creating co-financing systems. Digitization should also be deployed to overcome some of the problems posed by traditional funding sources.

Fifthly, Innovation and technology. Harnessing agricultural innovations and technologies is critical to realizing efficiency of food systems that contribute to food and nutritional security. Irrigation, green housing, digital tools and mobile technologies, as well as climate smart agriculture innovations can enhance the country’s food and nutrition security status. 

Sixtly, Food Production and Diversification. There is a need for early warning systems to be able to look at the weather and climate variability to inform stakeholders. These systems can ensure farmers are well informed so that they are able to effectively utilize prevailing weather conditions. Diversification of food and cash crop production based on their yields is needed to counteract attachment to certain crops that do not thrive in different regions.

Seventhly, Training and capacity building. Farmers and stakeholder trainings and capacity building should be intensified to facilitate change to modern and sustainable agricultural practices. This can be achieved through delivery of specialized extension services, ensuring extension officers have the right technical capacity, and can effectively deliver the knowledge and skills especially on new technologies and alternative market systems. The right number of extension service providers is also key to ensuring this information is scaled and is accessible. 

Eighthly, Research and reliable data. Research and availability of reliable data is crucial to ensuring evidence-based planning.

Finally, Improvement of market and road infrastructure. Development of urban markets with cold storage facilities to prolong produce shelf life, amenities such as lactation rooms that allow for women to nourish their young ones as they fend for them. Most urban roads are well surfaced, however rural road networks are poor. There is need to improve this road infrastructure as it is the primary mode of transport for agricultural produce as it connects produce to markets and secondary transport.

Kenya at the UNFSS Pre-summit

Kenya’s presence both in person and virtually at the UNFSS was strong, with participation from different government ministries, permanent secretary and ambassadors – as well as Kenya civil society.

Making a statement, the Honourable Lawrence Omuhaka – Deputy Minister Chief Administrative Secretary, Kenya noted: 
"Kenya wishes to align herself with the sentiments of colleagues and wishes to make her contribution in support of the overall goal of obtaining tangible results on healthy, resilient, and inclusive food systems, as well as realising impact of food systems on broad economic growth and development goals."

Also present at the pre-Summit, Stanley Kimaren Riamit, an Indigenous peoples’ leader from the Pastoralists Maasai Community in southern Kenya, made a moving intervention speaking at the "End Hunger, Nourish the Future" coalition event. 

"I want to first echo the sentiments made earlier by some presenters that this food systems process has been unique in the sense that it has provided for inclusivity – in process – that I am here, speaks to that fact. And we only pray and hope that this inclusivity of different actors and right-holders will go through to actions and outcomes that we anticipate to get. Second is I think it's Lawrence [Haddad, GAIN director] who made the comment that 'hunger is ugly'. I want to add that it is not just ugly, but it's the most dehumanising thing that anyone can experience. It takes away dignity, and it's the most abasing experience when your chance of seeing tomorrow is dependent on chance. And I therefore hope that those of us present here, and I believe so, that we are here because we want to transform our food system to make sure that none of our kind get dehumanised in the future."

Kenya has heeded the call to work towards positive food system transformation by embarking on a multistakeholder process to inform policy and actions, and to understand what food system transformation for the country should entail. GAIN Kenya remains committed to working to support country engagement with the UNFSS and food systems transformative processes.