Food Security Bill, 2014: What are we looking for in our County Food Security Committees?
Article 43(1)(c) of the Constitution of Kenya establishes Kenyans’ right “to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality”. Under Article 21, all State organs and all public officers have the duty to address the needs of vulnerable groups within society, including women, older members of society, persons with disabilities, children, and youth, members of minority or marginalised communities, and members of particular ethnic, religious or cultural communities. These sections of our Constitution highlight the importance of developing and implementing a legal framework for food security. The Food Security Bill 2014 proposes to give effect to Article 43 and in so doing it ratifies freedom from hunger and access to food of acceptable quality as a human right, promotes food production, self-sustenance and food security (vis–à–vis emergency food distribution) and provides for the establishment of regulating institutions and bodies.
The Food Security Bill 2014 was tabled for a third reading on 16th September 2015 and passed. It was then referred to the National Assembly, where it currently awaits approval by parliament to become law. The Bill provides for interventions that range from responding to food emergencies to monitoring the food security situation in the region and proactively coordinating activities that change the status quo of chronic food insecurity experienced by more than 10 million Kenyans nationwide.
It borrows from experiences of other countries, such as India, where food rights movements lobbied for food security law. In India, the National Food Security Act was established in 2013 with the objective of providing for food and nutritional security by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices.
Kenya’s Food Security Bill provides a legislative framework to address food insecurity. It enables both national and county governments to adopt policies and other interventions to fulfil their obligations in relation to the availability and affordability of food. These interventions cut across a number of sectors including agriculture, health, trade and environmental conservation. The Bill provides for the establishment of a national Food Security Authority (FSA) that will be the overall body charged with the formulation of policies, programmes and strategies regarding food security for implementation by county governments. At the county level, Food Security Committees will be established to ensure implementation of food security programmes. The committee will also be responsible for monitoring the food situation for any food threats and deploy the necessary interventions.
This article suggests what is required for a Food Security Committee to be successful and what impact effective committees might have on the country’s food security situation. The composition of committee members is important. Apart from automatic members (County Executive Officers in charge of agriculture and social services) from the county executive, the County Governor appoints additional members with approval from the County Assembly and by a notice in the county gazette. A strong committee would include individuals who have integrity and a resolve to serve. Lack of integrity has led to corruption in many government institutions. Embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds pose a serious challenge in Kenya. Chapter Six of our Constitution covers leadership and integrity providing a benchmark for vetting individuals seeking or holding positions in public office. Screening mechanisms should, therefore, be applied before appointing members of County Food Security Committees.
The representation and decision-making power within the committees should be gender balanced. Eighty per cent of Kenyan farmers are women yet only half that percentage owns the land that they produce food from (Women Take Over Kenya’s Farming Sector, Deutsche Welle, 2013). Women comprise 75-89% of the agricultural labour force meaning that their livelihoods depend on food production. Cultural traditions and social structures often mean that women are more affected by hunger and poverty than men. For example, expectant and nursing mothers require a special or increased intake of food. Too often, child hunger is inherited – a mother who is stunted or underweight due to an inadequate diet often gives birth to low birth weight children (Women and Food Security, Swedish International Development Agency, 2015). In Kenya, one quarter (26%) of children under 5 years old are stunted (Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, KNBS, 2014). The role women play as producers and providers of food, coupled with the adverse effects of poor nutrition on women, makes gender democracy within Food Security Committees imperative.
The collective knowledge-base of committee members should extend beyond agricultural production. There are many factors involved in being food secure, including but not limited to food production, farmer sovereignty, land legislation, water and irrigation, the economics of rural and urban development, employment and poverty levels, nutrition and health, global and local markets, storage and food distribution and policies thereof. Taken together, the experience and skills-set of committee members should reflect a holistic, multi-sectoral understanding of food value chains and food systems not solely agriculture or emergency food distribution programmes.
In the operation of this committee, county governments are permitted by law to establish a fund that shall be administered by the County Food Security Committee. This fund will be drawn from both the central and county governments and would be largely used in the implementation of food subsidies and food distribution programmes. There should be easy and timely access to these funds by the committee so that their role during food shortage crises and on a routine basis can be achieved. Other than performing a key role during emergency situations, the committee should be active in ensuring safe and healthy foods are accessible to citizens.
Actively overseeing and supporting the nutritional, health and safety component of food security is required for these committees to be effective. Committee members should play a role in decentralising information on the same to schools, places of worship, community-based organisations and households. Ensuring that nutrition is included in education curricula coupled with lessons about the hygienic preparation of food, organic production of food and climate change should be introduced at an early stage so that our children become environmentally sensitive citizens. Similarly, educational programmes could be developed for individuals working with community-based and religious organisations at ward levels. This creates the opportunity for knowledge sharing amongst households on issues such as food preparation, health and safety and general food storage. Another idea would be for the committees to periodically develop and distribute communications material on nutrition and health matters or interest areas such as food production seasons – what to grow and what not to, nutrition, climate change, soil conservation etc.
Looking into the future, it will be the responsibility of Kenyans to safeguard the member-composition of their respective Food Security Committee. This, they can achieve through forming or working with lobby groups that champion for the best candidates for these posts, or through their respective Members of County Assembly (MCAs). The already-existing community-based organisations can perform an oversight role in ensuring that only qualified and effective individuals representing relevant interests make it to the food security committee. Citizens in collaboration with community organisations can hold meetings with ward representatives and suggest names of people whom they think will represent their interests or insist that applicants for the committee be approved by the county assembly. Kenyans should make it clear to their MCA’s that re-election would be pegged on amongst other things, the effectiveness of the County Food Security Committee and by extension the appointment of people with vast and varied knowledge and competencies.
By Booker Owuor. Booker supports the Route to Food initiative.
Image: School girl harvesting mangoes, Machakos County. Photograph by Armstrong Too.