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HomeFood Stories from KenyaCha Kula Issue 4: The COVID Issue

Cha Kula Issue 4: The COVID Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption of food systems worldwide. This issue of Cha Kula addresses the implications of city lockdowns, travel restrictions, border closures and slew of containment measures, on the production, supply and diversity of food available. The vulnerabilities of our global food system have been exposed. The hardest hit are the marginalised rural and urban communities who have lost incomes, with direct implications on the availability of food on the family dinner table.

The pandemic is a stark reminder of why the right to food is an inclusive human right recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are three basic elements that underpin the right to food. Food must be available, accessible and adequate. Even before the emergence of the coronavirus health crisis, Africa faced food insecurity challenges that have since worsened. Many countries in Africa are heavily reliant on international food imports and with disrupted supply chains coupled with protectionist food policies, the crisis has pushed up food prices as incomes are reduced across all sectors of society.

With the effects of climate change, poor soil quality and declining biodiversity exerting immense pressure on regional food systems, the toll of COVID-19 on African economies, places the continent into a prolonged food and poverty crisis whose impact is still bound to be felt in years to come. The shock of COVID-19 on the longterm outlook of food security in Africa has generated a robust debate. This debate inspired the collaboration for the second edition of the “Food Series” between the Route to Food Initiative and the Nairobi based online platform The Elephant. The series gathered a number of African voices addressing the multiplicity of concerns and pointing out opportunities arising from the pandemic.

This edition of Cha Kula grapples with the food challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 health crisis and lays out some compelling paradigms to shift the conversation towards the prospects that the crisis presents. Oyunga Pala sets the tone by calling on a new philosophy towards sustainability in agriculture away from the capital intensive industrial models to homegrown solutions that meet local realities. This is informed by the development of new knowledge systems built on generational experience that are harmonious with nature. Harmony in food and farming systems is an antidote to modern industrial food production directly contributing to climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution of natural resources, depletion of our ecosystems and malnutrition. Mordecai Ogada tackles food as a cultural identity and as a distinct embodiment of a people’s way of life revealing the aspirations to tame, transform and reinvent nature. Cultural identities can become an imposition when dominant media narratives from the West, denigrate the value of food cultures and security in the global south and subject them to endless negative stereotyping rooted in colonial legacies. At the heart of Ogada’s argument is the media characterization of wet markets in Asia as sources of unacceptable food practices and the ways dominant global environmental conservation practices dictate food cultures and undermine regional food supply realities.

Joe Kobuthi builds on the need for resilient local food supply chains and the lessons learned from the COVID-19 challenges. What are the ways local authorities can plug the gaps in food systems and implement measures to safeguard the provision and production of food at the local community level? It becomes apparent that, the focus of transformation must begin with those hardest hit by the present crisis. Wangũi wa Kamonji tells us her story of nourishment during the lockdown and offers us a new perspective on embracing our vulnerabilities, instead of pushing them away. Her story focuses on the opportunity that lies in the food crisis that can serve as a motivation for changing our relationship with food and potentially lead to societal transformation.

Dauti Kahura’s article centers street food as a core part of urban cultural existence for millions of poor urban residents. Street food is more than just a cultural experience and here it is seen as a grassroots response to financial and policy challenges of urban living in Kenya, showing why it has come into prominence during this global health pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked an existential crisis across the world. History teaches us that past major pandemics have ushered in new ways of living. This particular crisis must be viewed as a great opportunity for comprehensive systemic transformation of our food systems towards true service of millions of people condemned to perpetual food insecurity, and in pursuit of achieving the right to food for all.

You can download Cha Kula Issue 4, now. Read on to get a feel of what’s in this edition…

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