Cha Kula Issue 1: Serving thought for food
The Route to Food Initiative has produced Cha Kula, a bi-annual publication, in a push to create a paradigm shift in the discussions relating to food security in Kenya. It aims to disabuse misconceptions that food security is simply about some people lacking food on their plates. It is not only about drought or famine. And, it cannot be solved by mass production of a staple foods. In this inaugural edition, Cha Kula explores the complex issues that affect you and the person next to you, because these issues influence what we need most to survive now and in the future – food.
Cha Kula brings to life the different ways in which politics plays out in Kenya’s food system. Think about it, food is a basic everyday reality but it is also a political issue. For Kenya, food is an aspiration. You can find it in supermarkets, from your local mama mboga and in the village. You can also find it in the Constitution under Article 43, meaning that we have signed up and agreed that every Kenyan, “has the right to be free from hunger and have adequate food of acceptable quality”.
Yet, in spite of our aspirations, the faces of hungry people depict our history. The trends of past regimes have been characterised by charitable food aid or food handouts that coincide with election cycles. As Celestine Nyamu-Musembi and Patta Scott-Villiers emphasise in The (Im)moral Economy of Accountability for Hunger in Kenya, the first article in the magazine, the few significant improvements made on the prevalence of food insecurity, leaves little room for doubt as to how seriously the problem is taken by political leaders. Is it politically opportune to have a chronically hungry nation? If it is not, then why do we see the same television features and media reports, year in and year out?
The political prominence of food security in the 2017 election cycle and in the current administration’s ‘Big Four Agenda’, is promising. It communicates that the leadership is aware of its constitutional obligation to protect, promote and fulfil the Right to Food for all Kenyans. Since politics is involved it will be power, money, influence and identity that determines who has food at their table, what that food is, how or where it was produced and who eventually benefits from food production.
It seems logical to assume that because millions of Kenyans do not have sufficient food that we need to produce more of it. And, when we think of producing more food, we turn to agriculture. More food – or, big agriculture – equals more food security, right? Wrong. These questions are further delved into in an interview with Sabrina Masinjila from the African Centre for Biodiversity, who tackles the contentious and politically-sensitive question of GMO’s and gives us the opportunity to learn from South Africa before we are hasty to call genetic modification the innovation we need to solve Kenya’s hunger problems.
Clearly, we need to think about food security and agriculture separately, because investments into either have different goals and respond to different needs. The current roadmap for solving food insecurity in Kenya makes this error. Daniel Maingi illustrates that the ‘roadmap’ is driven by who holds the power to make decisions when alternatives to industrial agriculture are presented. We are chasing an agri-food system, dominated by multi-national companies that produce seeds or chemical pesticides, that bring the manpower and expertise for mega-infrastructure projects or the knowledge and ‘science’ that apparently we don’t have.
As we focus on the issues relating to food security in Kenya, it is important to think about how each of us can make a contribution, however small, in ensuring that we can attain the Right to Food in Kenya in an inclusive, deliberate and speedy manner that responds to the food needs of Kenyans. How about that thought, for food? Enjoy Cha Kula!