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HomeFood Stories from KenyaExploring the links between food systems and the climate crisis | Food Literacy Forum Part 2

Exploring the links between food systems and the climate crisis | Food Literacy Forum Part 2

Climate change is not imminent, it is here already, with many places already bearing the stress of more intense and more unpredictable weather patterns. Climate change as well impacts food systems, for example by increasing desertification and so putting more pressure on available farming land. On the other hand, our food systems also exacerbate climate change, with mono-cropping and heavy pesticide use making the land more degraded.

The second public forum on food literacy explored the complex and interconnected interaction between our food systems and the climate crisis, and particularly the potential that small-holder, less intense farming methods, indigenous knowledge and food systems have in addressing environmental degradation.

Jackline Kemboi is a rangeland scientist who currently works for Justdiggit Foundation as a landscape restoration coordinator, and for her, integrating new adaptive technologies with indigenous knowledge systems is crucial in coping with the effects of climate change.

“I work with pastoral communities in the southern part of Kenya, and in these areas there are many places where the land is degraded to the point of being bare,” said Kemboi. “We’re working with communities in those areas to harvest and conserve rainwater using ‘half-moon’ ponds. It’s a simple [soil] technology that holds the water run-off from floods and brings back vegetation and pasture.”

These communities are also establishing grass seed banks, said Kemboi where they grow high-quality pastures and then sell the grass seeds; there is high demand in those areas for rangeland grass seeds. With these seeds, they are able to earn an income and at the same time contribute to rangeland restoration.

For Dr. Oscar Koech, a researcher in the field of pastures and animal nutrition and feeds, it’s alarming that agriculture seems to have such a low priority for government, going by the budget and resource allocation for the sector in Kenya. “Food and food sustainability should be the number one priority for every government, over and above any other notions of ‘development’,” said Koech. “But in addition to money, sometimes what is also needed is skills, knowledge and innovation. Some of these mitigation measures [like Jackline Kemboi shared] simply need a clear way for people to share knowledge, and perhaps don’t even have such a heavy financial implication.”

On their part, the webinar audience was engaged and vibrant through the discussion, raising crucial questions of how to farmers and consumers can get the support they need that would make them feel empowered when it comes to these broad-reaching questions about climate, food and power.

For Ruth Nyambura, a feminist climate activist and organizer, these are not just technical questions, but also political questions. The crisis that we are facing is the “afterlife of colonization, and the impact of globalization and structural adjustment programmes. All these come together to create a particular context in the Global South… we still have a cash crop economy that privileges crops for export,” said Nyambura, which impacts our ability to adapt to the climate crisis. “Over the past thirty years of neoliberalism, we’ve seen a dismantling of research institutions, extension services, credit facilities, and price guarantees at the farm gate.”

Overcoming some of this vulnerability must involve decolonizing food and food systems, decentering the profit motive and the capitalist impulse in food production. “In this country we need to reclaim the politics of the commons, and to seriously address the questions of land redistribution,” said Nyambura, emphasizing the need to properly situate the climate crisis in the context of power, history, economic systems, patriarchy, and other ideologies that limit our imagination and foreclose on certain possibilities. “We have to see what we’re fighting against, but also what we’re fighting for.”

The session was moderated by Christine Mungai, writer, journalist and curator of Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi.

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