Cha Kula Issue 2: Hot off the press
The late Professor Wangari Maathai taught us that human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy but are things that we fight for and protect. The right to food is one of these rights. But what does it mean for you to have a right to food? Should you be fighting for and protecting it? And if so, how?
As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and under Article 43 of the Constitution, Kenya is obligated to uphold the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality. As Neto Agostinho explains in this issue, the primary responsibility for attaining food security rests with individual governments, therefore the Government of Kenya has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the realisation of the right to food for all Kenyans.
Despite the political prominence of food security under the President’s “Big Four” Plan, there have been alarming indicators of the state’s failure to stick to their end of the rights bargain. This year, the people of Turkana County have again fallen prey to hunger. Media reports indicate that the Pests Control Products Board (PCPB) has registered 718 chemical pesticide products, 28% of which are not approved in Europe because of their potential human or environmental health effects. Smallholder farmers have come under siege by the proposed Dairy Industry Regulations and Crops (Food Crops) Regulations. It appears that as a nation we are expected to beg, poison ourselves, or pay penalties to put food on the table.
The forecast for change is not looking promising. The 2019 Budget Policy Statement unashamedly has a policy preference for industrial agriculture and the large-scale production of staple crops. In so doing, it undermines the food and nutrition security of ordinary Kenyans. In the first place, small-scale farmers have consistently produced the bulk of Kenya’s food, accounting for over 70% of the value of gross marketed production of agriculture and food.
Secondly, and tragically, the majority of people suffering from chronic food insecurity are small-scale farmers. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) defines food poverty as individuals unable to consume the minimum daily calorific requirement of 2,250 kilocalories (Kcal) as per expenditures on food. The food poverty headcount rate in rural areas is 35.8% (3.8% greater than at the national level), translating into 10.4 million Kenyans who lack adequate food.
Fiscal policies play a critical role in the food security of Kenyans. For example, a reading of the national and county budgets will tell you whether agricultural extension services are going to be re-established and financed. They will tell you whether you can expect to see diverse or indigenous food items on store shelves. They will tell you, whether you can expect to buy locally grown, organic produce. And, if you read between the lines, they will probably also give you a hint as to whether you can expect to be paying more for the food you buy. In Joy Ndubai’s article, Taxing for the Right to Food, she explains how the tax system can help or hinder the achievement of food security in Kenya. The article unpacks how tax policies are playing out in the country’s food system and what the consequences are on our ability to access adequate food.
In this issue of Cha Kula, we invite you to think about truly sustainable solutions to achieving food security in Kenya. In her article on sustainable food, Silke Bollmohr expounds on promising farming techniques, including integrated pest management and organic practices. She explains the science of agroecology and the philosophy of permaculture. In contrast to the possibilities presented in Silke’s article, we are seeing pressure coming from the highest political levels, to lift the ban on genetically modified food imports and commercialise Bt Maize and Bt Cotton. The interview with Anne Maina tells us why we need to tread cautiously when it comes to genetically modified crops. Anne explains how this form of agriculture undermines critical biodiversity and drawing on case studies of South Africa and Burkina Faso, leads farmers into greater poverty.
However, no discussion about the right to food would be complete if it was only a discussion about how we produce our food. We need to recognise that social dimensions are essential to truly sustainable living systems. In this regard the inclusion and equal participation of Kenyan women in the country’s food system is critical. In the article, Biting the Hand that Feeds Us, Brenda Wambui illustrates how we are systematically undermining women’s right to food and in so doing jeopardising the food and nutrition security of the whole country, now and in the future.
Cha Kula gives you ways in which you can be a champion for the right to food and food security in Kenya, by taking the smallest possible actions. We are suggesting you get to know your local mama mboga and find out how you can support them, as Kaluhi Adagala of ‘Kaluhi’s Kitchen’ does. We have given you a list of places that you can buy organic produce, whilst also supporting small-scale organic farmers and the environment. Kenya’s food system is at a crossroads, and now more than ever, we need you to take notice of which direction it’s going to turn so that you can be an active participant, rather than a passive recipient, of food policies and practices that impact your right to adequate food.
By Layla Liebetrau, Project Lead at the Route to Food Initiative