How peasant farmers are building a grassroots food rights movement
In 2011, as food and commodity prices spiralled upwards in Kenya, the price of a packet of maize flour (unga) – a staple for many – quickly became unaffordable. With little government incentive to alleviate the high costs of food staples for low-income Kenyans, the Unga Revolution was born. Through the movement, Kenyans demanded the government take immediate action and lower the price of unga to Ksh 30; ensuring that all Kenyans could afford to feed themselves.
While its goals are yet to be realised, the Unga Revolution helped spur a modern food rights movement in Nairobi – and Kenya at large. The Kenyan Peasants League (KPL) has been central to this movement. Here, it shares its vision for an alternative food system that puts all people at the centre.
The glo(cal) food crisis of 2007/08 eventually gave rise to the Unga Revolution street protests during Kenya’s food crisis of 2011. The protests were largely seen as a way for marginalised individuals and communities, especially in urban areas, to bring to the surface the systemic state failures spanning decades around guaranteeing their Right to Food. Members of what is now known as the Kenya Peasants League were central to this and the grassroots food rights movement in Kenya over the last decade. What is KPL’s account of the movement’s struggle for food justice in Kenya?
The Kenyan Peasants League (KPL) is a social movement of Kenyan peasant farmers and consumers whose main aim is to promote peasant, family, smallholder and agro-ecology farming in the promotion of food sovereignty. KPL promotes indigenous seed, banking of livestock and plant varieties and creation of an alternative economy driven by the provision of livelihoods.
The KPL stands in opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other Free Trade Agreements (FTA) which tend to skew against developing countries like Kenya, killing local agriculture and livestock production. KPL seeks to streamline the voices of Kenyan peasant farmers and consumers against tendencies of commodifying food production and food production systems.
Formed in June 2016 as a result of the WTO Ministerial Conference 10 (WTO MC10) that took place in Nairobi in December 2015, the KPL has since established its presence in Nairobi, Migori and Machakos Counties. Here, it has organised rural small-scale farmers, pastoralists, urban peasant farmers and fisherfolk into clusters that can ensure they control food production systems, maintain their food sovereignty and that aid in the creation of an alternative economy controlled by peasant farmers. In these clusters, farmers are encouraged to produce indigenous foods and livestock, including planting indigenous trees and grasses. KPL has also held monthly farmer-to-farmer dialogues in the three counties and established a system of joint storing of produce and preservation of seeds for increased food sovereignty.
In a country where poor people, most of them women in rural and urban areas, spend up to 70% of their income on food, even as smallholder women farmers continue to be the primary food producers in Kenya, what has been KPL’s response to the gendered-class dimensions of food poverty in Kenya?
KPL recognises the central role that women play in the food production process and has ensured that women are at the centre of its leadership. We also work to promote the protection of women’s rights to land, especially widows. To do this, KPL has programs aimed at influencing policies at the national and county level so that they can be friendly to women. In Migori County, for instance, KPL through its Women League is following up on two cases where widows were denied access to land belonging to their deceased husbands and have raised the issue with administrative officials.
KPL also encourages women to pool resources together and invest in family farms. With our food production program, women farmers have been able to produce and store food together for their livelihoods. KPL believes that with more investment in family farms, income spent on food by peasant farmers, particularly women, will fall creating more disposable income for them and their families. With more disposable income, women peasants will have more resources to improve on their livelihoods and farms including educating their children and contributing to the general growth of the KPL.
The KPL like Bunge la Mwananchi and Bunge la Wamama Mashinani draws its membership almost exclusively from the urban and rural poor and working class, basically those at the forefront of the intersections of various forms of inequalities. What is the potential for building cross-class solidarity to fight for food justice in Kenya, with the aspirations of marginalised people guiding this movement?
KPL offers solidarity among peasant farmers and provides opportunities for farmers to build alliances that are central to establishing an alternative food production system driven by the provision of their livelihoods.
In February this year, KPL also hosted a Farmer to Farmer Exchange Visit in Mariwa Village, Migori that brought together 12 farmers from Southern and Eastern Africa and six farmers from other parts of Kenya. The exchange visit provided opportunities for KPL and local peasant farmers from Mariwa Village, Kangemi slums in Nairobi County and Kaliani Village to share practices, build solidarity amongst themselves and to learn more about the challenges facing peasant farmers in other countries, the similarities of their struggles and strategies being used to tackle these challenges elsewhere. As with KPL’s Farmer to farmer dialogues, the visit also allowed for farmers to exchange indigenous seeds.
In the future, KPL hopes to continue building cross-class solidarity through increased dialogue between the various classes to promote understanding of the challenges and victories in organising for food rights. KPL also hopes to establish agro-ecology schools and centres and has already successfully done so in Mawira Village. Through these centres, KPL seeks to provide a space where local indigenous knowledge can be documented and disseminated to various groups and where farm-based farmers research can be conducted and used to provide evidence-based advocacy for the rights of peasants.
The Kenyan Peasants League is a social movement of Kenyan peasant farmers whose main aim is to promote peasant farming, agro-ecology and smallholder farming so as to promote food sovereignty. KPL promotes indigenous seeds, livestock and plant varieties banking and creation of an alternative economy that is driven by the provision for livelihoods.