World Food Day in Kenya? No, not this year.
On the 16th of October each year, the world commemorates World Food Day. It is a day when we come together to take stock of our global food situation relative to the sustainable development goal number 2 – #ZeroHunger. This year’s theme is healthy diets for a zero hunger world.
In my opinion, Kenya has nothing to celebrate on this important day. Instead, we should be immersed in the deep work of uplifting the close to 3 million Kenyans who are facing acute hunger and approximately 10 million Kenyans who experience chronic food insecurity. Anything less than that, is basic theatrics.
For as long as I can remember, two extreme events occur each year in Kenya: Extreme droughts and extreme floods. It’s quite ironic that these two different events leave the same effect in their wake. For decades, systemic hunger has caused pain, suffering, death and displacement of millions of Kenyans.
I can understand if something happens once. A climatic shock. An unpredictable weather event. An economic downturn. I can even understand if something happens twice or three times. But when the same thing happens on a regular basis, with the same results, that’s not a mistake. That is incomprehensible, perhaps an arrogant refusal to learn and adapt from our past mistakes.
Why hasn’t Kenya, with over fifty years of independence and self-rule, become food sufficient? Where are we going wrong and most importantly why haven’t we learned from our past mistakes?
By now I would have expected that we have in place adequate infrastructure to mitigate the effects of drought and generally, to assist in the equal distribution of food to markets around the country. Conversely, I do not understand why we have not put in place measures to not only curb flooding but to harvest and store the runoff water when we have plenty rains which could then be used during the times of drought.
Comparatively, Israel, a small strip of land in the shape of a crude weapon and with only one source of water, is not only food sufficient but is now one of the leading exporters of food in the world. As a matter of fact, Israel’s food production capacity is rivalled only by the United States and Netherlands. With only one source of water and negligible rainfall; Israel, through political commitment and innovation, is on course to become an exporter of water. Imagine that.
Kenya, on the other hand, endowed with a wide range of agro-ecological zones, cultural diversity, a beautiful climate, forests, rivers, lakes and miles of ocean shore cannot even feed her people. Sometimes I feel that our leaders and politicians are geologists whose sole job is to discover new rock bottoms for the people of Kenya.
Whenever the country experiences droughts and floods, Kenyans of good will and charity organisations have to step in to fulfil what would ordinarily be the responsibility of the state under the national and international obligations on the Right to Food. There are few strategic plans to build capacities of communities to withstand climate-related events and limited planning and budgetary allocation for necessary safeguards. The true measure of the sovereignty of a people is judged by their ability to feed themselves. In situations where a person or a group of people for reasons beyond their control are unable to provide for themselves, the government should provide food in a quantity and quality that ensure food and nutrition security. As a minimum, the state is always required to provide a quantity of food that ensures freedom from hunger.
When will we say enough is enough? When will we decide as a country that too many people suffer at the hands of not being able to afford food, or grow their own food? In the context of climate change, we are not facing unique environmental problems. It is a global challenge. Subsequently some countries are coming up with coping strategies, innovations and solutions that support sustainable food security. Kenya can learn from and indeed, lead on, environmentally-friendly food production practices in pursuit of food sovereignty for all.
On his second and final term as president, Uhuru Kenyatta got elected on the promise of the Big Four Agenda: enhancing manufacturing, food security and nutrition, universal health coverage and affordable housing. This is noble and ambitious commitment. In my opinion however, the big four should just have been the big ONE: food security and nutrition. Food is the most basic need for any human being. Having to endure food insecurity not only dehumanises Kenyans, but also undermines opportunities to participate in the public and economic life of our country. If we can fix, once and for all the food situation, everything else will fall into place.
It is not the government’s job to feed me. It is the government’s job to create an enabling environment in which I can feed myself in dignity. Until then we should think hard about the significance of a ‘world food day’ and what sort of achievements we’d like to celebrate on this day, in the future.
By Nic Odhiambo – Organic Life PLC (Twitter @NicOdhiambo)