As of 30th June 670 million people experienced insufficient food consumption globally according to the World Food Programme’s Hunger Map.
Moreover, the findings from the 2023 Global Report on Food Crisis suggest that achieving the goal of ending hunger by 2030 is ever more challenging because the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity has increased for the fourth consecutive year. In 2022, nearly 258 million people in 58 countries or territories experienced a food crisis or worse acute food insecurity. Even though there has been an increase in the population analysed, this was the highest on record since the Global Report on Food Crisis (GRFC) began reporting these data in 2017.
This global food crisis is driven by three key factors – conflict, economic shocks and weather extremes – linked to the enduring socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and repeated droughts.
In Kenya as of 29th June a total population of 14.1 million experienced insufficient food consumption which is a 4.3 million increase from the previous month, according to the Hunger Map.
Although the country produces enough food to feed the population, economic access remains a challenge. Kenya’s rate of self-sufficiency in the production and availability of food is 90.3 per cent against an import dependency of 12.7 per cent, but on the four indicators of the Global Food Security Index in 2022, Kenya scored 41.3 per cent on affordability, the only indicator where the country scored below average.
With 8.9 million Kenyans (17 per cent of the population) living in extreme poverty – below 1.9 USD (Ksh 250) a day –and a hunger level score of 23.5 which is way above the recommended 9 or less, many Kenyans are going hungry because they can’t afford to it.
Frida Mmbone, a casual labourer at a tea farm in Kakamega, said that she earns Ksh250 per day, working six days a week. Her husband is also a tea picker at the same farm, earning a similar wage. Their combined income of Ksh500 can barely meet their needs and those of their four children, given that they spend Ksh425 on food alone. With 85 per cent of their income going to food, they barely have enough to meet other basic expenses like their children’s education, healthcare bills and clothing.
“We have a small piece of land, but it doesn’t produce enough maize to last us till the next harvest, so we have to buy 2kg of maize flour every day. We also buy half a litre of milk, a quarter kilo of sugar, a Ksh20 portion of cooking fat and paraffin worth Ksh30 every day.
“With the constant increase in the prices of basic commodities, we have been forced to do away with some things. Now we only make breakfast during weekends, and luckily three of the children are in high school so they have tea at 10 and lunch in school. My husband and I have tea at work and skip lunch to save on costs,” she said.
The current food crisis is a result of several factors, including drought following a sixth failed rain season. The increasing intensity and shorter cycles between droughts have affected crop yields for five consecutive seasons. Pastoralist communities have also lost substantial numbers of livestock due to malnutrition.
These combined factors have led to the inflation of food prices limiting access and consumption of food staples.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), maize production in the country declined by 12.8 per cent from 42.1 million bags in 2020 to 36.7 million bags in 2021 and 34.3 million bags in 2022. Similarly, the volume of marketed milk decreased from 801.9 million litres in 2021 to 754.3 million litres in 2022 largely due to drought that resulted in scarcity of fodder for livestock.
As a result of decreased production due to drought, Kenya’s maize imports in the first nine months of 2022 more than doubled to 519,611.30 tonnes (5.7 million 90-kilogramme bags), from 214,100.9 tonnes (2,378,899 90-kilogramme bags) during a similar period in 2021. This is the highest maize import since 2017. The shortage of the staple left 5.1 million people in need of relief food and pushed up retail prices of maize flour.
Similarly, Kenya imported rice worth $275 million, becoming the 32nd largest importer of the cereal in the world, and making it the 12th most imported product in Kenya.
In addition to the effects of drought on food security, the war in Ukraine has disrupted global food markets, leading to higher prices for wheat, maize, and other commodities. Kenya is a major importer of these commodities, so the war has had a significant impact on the country’s food prices.
The war has also contributed to higher costs of production by disrupting the supply chains of fertilisers which resulted in shortages, increasing demand and purchasing costs. In 2020 Russia accounted for 17 per cent of fertiliser exports to Kenya.
Given that food, followed by energy, is one of the key drivers of inflation in Kenya’s consumer price index, these factors have put pressure on food supplies, putting overall inflation at 8 per cent in May, and food inflation at 10.2 per cent, in the same month. Rising prices have reduced the purchasing power of consumers, who now have to spend twice as much as before on most food staples.
Available income to buy basic needs like food is also under pressure from policy adjustments driven by pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which has seen the government increase taxes on everything including cooking gas (with a new VAT of 16 per cent from the previous 8 per cent). These adjustments were passed in the Finance Act 2023, touted to be the way out of the country’s debt crisis and into self-reliance. The law has since been challenged in court and its implementation suspended pending the hearing of the case.
Kenya’s economy is yet to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected the tourism sector that contributed up to 10 per cent of GDP before the pandemic. As of 2022, there was a notable increase in tourism revenue by up to 83 per cent but it is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic also created bottlenecks in the supply chain contributing to inflation.
Further, the drastic depreciation of the Kenya shilling against the dollar has made the importation of food and raw materials necessary for food production more expensive. The shilling’s value against the dollar depreciated by an average of 0.6 per cent monthly since March 2020, plunged to an average depreciation of 4 per cent per month in January and February 2023, then 6 per cent in March. The shilling has lost more than 25 per cent of its value against the dollar, exchanging at Sh140 to the dollar, and this has pushed up the prices of imported goods.
In the midst of the crisis Kenyans have nowhere to turn for relief. Among all 113 countries assessed for the Global Food Security Index in 2022, Kenya had an average score of 26.8 on food safety net programmes, which was less than the average of 72.4 for other countries. Moreover, the country scored zero on funding for food safety net programmes, yet it scored 100 on dependency on chronic food aid, against an average of 65.5 for other countries that were assessed.
With 56 per cent of the world’s population living in cities according to the World Bank, a new study reveals how crucial urban farming is to food security, given that the urban population is projected to grow to nearly 70 per cent by 2050. In Africa, the rate of urbanisation is 47 per cent, while in Kenya it increases by 3.7 per cent annually, with the rate of rural depopulation raising concerns about food supply given that there are fewer people living and working in farms.
Dr Antonina Mutoro, Associate Research Scientist at the African Population and Health Research Center, said interventions to address the hunger crisis by promoting urban farming should be sustainable and scalable, rather than temporary. This would mean considering systemic factors and government policies in addition to individual efforts.
“There is only so much we can do because our environment is influenced by what is going on in terms of politics and government policies. I am thinking of people living in informal settlements; they need structures put in place by the government to ensure there is space or innovative methods of producing food in small spaces in urban areas, access to safe water and capacity and knowledge to produce food safely. This will ensure that regardless of whether you have an income or not you have a sustained source of food.
“That being said, there is a limited amount of food one can produce for their own consumption and it also limiting when it comes to growing maize our staple food in those small urban spaces,” she explained.
Given that affordability is a major factor driving hunger in Kenya where there is a high rate of unemployment among the youth, Dr Mutoro said that this should also be addressed to ensure that people can access food sustainably.
“There is need for systems that ensure that people have access to money to buy food through the government creating income-generating activities and promoting farming as a source of livelihood, especially among the younger population by reducing costs of farm inputs and ensuring markets are profitable to farmers rather than causing them losses.
“This can contribute to a consistent food supply and reduce reliance on imports,” she noted.
She added that youth should be supported to adopt farming as a source of livelihood, saying that the average Kenyan farmer is 61 years old and that is likely to have implications on food production in 20 or less years.
Besides promoting food security through food production, innovative solutions are needed to prevent food wastage and ensure that surplus food reaches those in need. For instance, APHRC through its Zero Hunger Initiative champions ensuring that food that is produced is transported from places where it is in excess to areas where it is needed the most. By preventing food wastage, food security can be improved without requiring increased production.
Given that adverse climate conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas contribute to food insecurity through failed rains and drought, long-term planning should consider climate change and invest in innovative irrigation systems and other climate adaptation strategies to maintain sustainable food production despite environmental challenges. Learning from countries like Israel, which effectively produce food in desert conditions, can provide valuable insights.
Subsidies and trade-offs which have been contentious issues, also have the potential to alleviate the crisis while still making farming profitable and ensuring farmers receive fair compensation for their produce. However, the trade-offs and potential impacts on the industry and market dynamics should be carefully considered before implementing such policies. Comprehensive discussions involving all stakeholders are necessary to reach agreements that balance the interests of different parties, and long-term planning should be prioritised over the short-term focus of political agendas.
“It is essential to establish structures and frameworks that transcend individual governments. Long-term planning and consistent implementation of initiatives are crucial for sustainable solutions to address food insecurity in Kenya and other African countries. Shifting agendas with political changes limit the effectiveness and continuity of proposed interventions,” said Dr Mutoro.
The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in a community, has physical, social and economic access to adequate food or means for its procurement. It is the state’s obligation to not only respect but protect and facilitate the realisation of this right by ensuring during times of crisis like now there are social safety nets that aim to ensure a minimum amount of food consumption and protect households against shocks to food consumption. These safety nets should be integrated as part of a larger policy of sustainable economic development so they are not viewed as charity but as developmental and as a way of building resilience to shocks.
This articlewas produced as part of the Aftershocks Data Fellowship (22-23)with support from the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with The ONE Campaign and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).