Reflections of a young voice in an old conundrum
I was taken aback when I heard about a youth debate on food security. For the longest time, young people in Kenya have been neglected from the high-level national dialogue, which is the territory of seasoned politicians who control funds and communities. The role of the youth has been relegated to implementation only, with no seat provided at any other table. But, as Shirley Chisholm said, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” – and, that is what we did.
The Route to Food Initiative brought together students and budding professionals from all walks of Kenyan life to a youth debate on food security and the right to food, at the Meridian Hotel on 17th November 2017. I was enthusiastic about meeting and interacting with peers from diverse professional backgrounds.
We were required to prepare essays prior to the debate and submit them as part of an application process. At the time of writing my essay, I perceived food security as an issue to be addressed from an environmental and political perspective, but as I came to learn, there is much more to it. I became familiar with Article 43 of the constitution that declares my right to food (meaning I should be able to access adequate food at all time in a dignified manner), as well as learn about other governmental milestones setting the country on a path towards becoming food secure, such as medium-term plans that ensure safe and efficient agricultural practices. I also learned about the distributional problems encountered along Kenya’s food chain, especially in drought-afflicted counties, which are exacerbated by delayed funding due to factors such as the political climate during this election year.
During the debate discussions, I began to recognise the impact of socio-cultural and political aspects, on food security in the country – particularly the role that women and education should play in the solution to chronic food insecurity. The lively debate brought out issues such as the impacts of climate change on agriculture, unsustainable environmental practices that are being promoted in the country and the lack of gender democracy in the agriculture sector. So much so, that I thought reality was slipping out of the hands of humanity! How susceptible the urban-poor are to price hikes in food, meaning they have less variety than the rural poor; post-production handling; as well as food waste because crops don’t meet the desired market standards – these made for a roaring debate.
During the course of discussions, the opinion that Kenya produces more food than it consumes was met with opposition given the numerous food shortages encountered over the past few years, whereas another faction was of the opinion that Kenyans are wastrels. The idea that Kenya has enough food to feed its people, was soon realised to be a possibility, but due to the lack of infrastructure to store and transport food effectively, ultimately leading to food waste and the profit-driven market mechanics that govern how much food costs and who is able to afford it, the fact that there is enough food seems to have little bearing on systemic hunger. It made for a more conscious meal at lunch that day.
To summarise the feeling in the room and the ideas exchanged between each other, I would say, there is hope to realise food security in Kenya. School curricula should touch on food issues – particularly everyone’s rights and responsibilities towards meeting household food requirements. Women’s dietary needs and participation in the food system should be prioritised at the household level and reinforced in national level policy. To beat hunger and achieve food security, poverty must be tackled, otherwise, food insecurity will forever be only a drought or wage away.
I was more aware of food insecurity issues and their complexity when I left the room than when I had entered it. The road to a food secure Kenya is filled with hurdles that no silver bullet or singular body can tackle. The debate has challenged me and I feel driven to advocate for food rights for all of us. Would you join me?
By Minang Acharya. Minang supports the Route to Food and participated at the Youth Debate on Food Security and the Right to Food in Kenya.