Why China? A Look at Viral Outbreaks That, Like COVID-19, Originate From the East
China, officially the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and is the most populous country in the world, with a population of around 1.4 billion people. It is also one of the world’s first civilizations.
With over 34,687 species of animals and plants, China is the third-most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil and Colombia. It is home to at least 551 species of mammals, 1221 species of birds and 424 species of reptiles and 333 species of amphibians; most of which are consumed as food.
On December 31 last year, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization, WHO, of an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus causing severe illness. It was subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 and is now known as the causative agent of COVID-19. The origin of the virus was the city of Wuhan in China.
The disease, that has flu-like symptoms, has so far infected over 2 million people and caused over 140,000 deaths across 209 countries around the world. The effects it has left in its trail have caused different countries to take extreme measures in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
This is, however, not the first time China has been the origin of a viral outbreak.
In February 1957, the Asian flu (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic. It was later traced back to China with a stop in Singapore. It then spread to Hong Kong and to coastal cities in the United States in the summer of 1957.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, the number of deaths caused by the virus stands at 1.1 million people worldwide including 116,000 in the US. A vaccine was developed and the flu tapered off in 1958.
Though the cause is still not known, some authors believe the virus originated from a mutation in wild bucks combining with a pre-existing human strain. The strain later evolved, causing a milder pandemic between 1968-69.
The Asian flu was characterized by symptoms similar to many other strains of influenza, including fever, body aches, chills, cough, weakness, and loss of appetite. It is a respiratory illness, so a dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing are all widely reported among flu sufferers. Other complications include pneumonia, seizures and heart failure.
Hong Kong Flu
The Hong Kong flu (H3N2) outbreak occurred in Hong Kong, China, between 1968-1969, killing an estimated 1 million people globally. It is said to have evolved from the H2N2 strain of influenza that had caused the Asian Flu.
It occurred in two waves, and in most places, the second wave caused more deaths that the first. A vaccine was later developed against the virus but it became available only after the pandemic had peaked in many countries.
Infection caused upper respiratory symptoms typical of influenza and produced symptoms of chills, fever and muscle pain and weakness. These symptoms usually persisted for between four and six days.
The H3N2 virus is still in circulation today and is considered to be a strain of seasonal influenza. In the 1990s, a closely related virus was isolated from pigs.
In 1997, human infections with Bird flu (H7N9) were first reported in China. It is a zoonotic disease (one that passes from an animal or insect to a human), which infects humans after exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments. Rare instances of person-to-person spread were been identified in China.
Since then, annual sporadic infections have been reported outside of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao, but all the cases have occurred among people who had travelled to China before becoming ill.
The current risk to the general public’s health posed by the virus is low but exposure to infected poultry pauses the risk of it spreading to neighbouring countries. There have been 6 waves of the epidemic over the years with the last one being in 2017.
Early symptoms included fever, headache, coughing that produces sputum, muscle pain breathing problems and general malaise. In later stages, other symptoms include pneumonia, multi-organ dysfunction, septic shock and brain damage.
In 2002, a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), was reported in Asia. It is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of Southern China.
According to National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, NFID, coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans. They often circulate among camels, cats, and bats, and can sometimes evolve and infect people. They are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The CDC states that there are 7 coronaviruses that can infect people.
The SARS epidemic from China affected 26 countries and resulted in over 8000 infections in 2003. Some of the affected areas included Toronto in Canada, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and Hanoi in Vietnam.
SARS also had influenza-like symptoms including fever, malaise, muscle pain, headache, diarrhoea, shivering, coughing (initially dry) and shortness of breathe. Severe cases often evolve rapidly, progressing to respiratory distress and requiring intensive care.
So Is China Fertile Ground For Future Pandemics?
Given the history above and the current situation the world is experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what does China hold in terms of future outbreaks?
Dr Eddy Okoth Odari, a senior lecturer and researcher of Medical Virology in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), points out several factors.
“Potential for a pandemic would depend on various socio-economic and geopolitical factors attributed to a country or region. Most pandemics that have emanated from China have been viral in nature and have occurred as a result of such viruses crossing species from animals to humans. Viruses’ crossing from animals to humans is not a strange phenomenon. However, we have to appreciate that most of these viruses, which eventually end up in pandemics, have been traced to the “Wildlife Markets” (wet markets) in Southern China. The activity of trading in wildlife is unique to that region. China being an economic hub where a lot of businesses take place, many people travel to and out of China and therefore I would imagine that any outbreak occurring in China would easily and quickly spread to other regions compared to if such an outbreak would occur for example in an African country.”
In late January, China imposed a ban on trade and consumption of wildlife meat acquired through illegal trading activities, as cases of COVID-19 surged in Wuhan. The city of Shenzen went a step further to extend the ban on cats and dogs. This new law will be enforced on 1st May.
There have been 81,802 cases, 3,333 deaths and 77,279 recoveries since the outbreak (see our tracker for the most up to date numbers), numbers whose veracity continues to be heavily criticized after Chinese authorities reportedly suppressed the news of the outbreak when it first began.
However, for the first time since January, Wuhan reported no new deaths on April 7, joining the rest of China, which has reportedly seen no deaths since March – even though questions have been raised about the veracity of China’s claims. This sharp decline has been attributed to aggressive testing, quarantines and social distancing. Authorities have begun to ease restrictions on lockdowns though still taking precautions to fully resume normalcy in the country.
As to what the future of pandemics holds, Dr Okoth says it is not that easy to tell.
“It may not be possible to predict where a future pandemic may come from, but it is worth assessing such socio-economic and geopolitical factors when trying to generate a model to predict future pandemics.”
He, however, has a warning for African countries.
“Although so far tropical Africa is not recording very high cases as compared to the temperate regions, seasonal variations may work against us. For example, the cold season starting in June through to the end of July (in the case of Kenya) and other southern African countries may make these regions become the epicentres of infections (if not controlled in time) in the coming months.”
This article was originally published by Africa Uncensored. Graphics by Clement Kumalija.
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Are GMOs the Answer to Kenya’s Food Insecurity?
The path to alleviating food insecurity is layered with complex challenges and GMOs are not a one-size-fits-all solution.
On November 8th 2012, the Kenyan government banned the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations and open cultivation of genetically modified crops.
Almost ten years later, in October 2022, the government revoked the ban on genetically modified crops, in part to deal with the drought that was ravaging the country causing widespread hunger and high food prices. While lifting the ban, President William Ruto cited the need to adapt to climate change and reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture.
“We are adopting emerging and new alternatives to farming that will ensure early maturity and more production of food to cushion millions of Kenyans from perennial famine,” President Ruto said when revoking the ban.
There have been mixed reactions to the decision, with those opposed concerned about the potentially harmful effects on health, the environment and small farms, while supporters say lifting the ban will improve food security.
President Ruto gave assurances that the Kenya National Biosafety Authority, the body established to exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), had developed guidelines for their introduction into the country’s food chain.
This was immediately refuted by the coordinator of the Biosafety Association of Kenya Ann Maina, who said there was no sufficient evidence that GMOs would combat food insecurity or provide farmers with socio-economic benefits. Ms Maina said the Authority did not have the capacity to regulate GMOs as it had limited personnel and financial resources to properly undertake its mandate.
Instead of allowing GMOs, Ms Maina urged the government to increase its research funding for organisations such as the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation to develop local innovations and technologies that can spur agricultural growth.
Food security as a concept emerged in the mid-1970s during the global food crisis. At the time, the discussion focused primarily on food supply problems—availability and, to some extent, the price stability of food commodities—at the international and national level. Over time, the definition has evolved to be more inclusive and comprehensive by acknowledging the complexities linked to technology and policy issues and other emerging factors such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food security is when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that they prefer/are likely to enjoy and access. It connotes that the food is physically within reach, socially acceptable within the space they are in and they have the financial means to purchase it at all times,” says Antonina Mutoro, an associate research scientist in nutrition and food systems at the African Population and Health Research Center.
Food insecurity is a recurring issue, with 3.2 million Kenyans in the arid and semi-arid regions (24 per cent of the population) facing high levels of acute food insecurity as of September 2022. The numbers were projected to increase to 4.4 million (29 per cent of the population) by October last year according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. With 80 per cent of the country considered to be arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) and dominated by smallholder farmers, there is even less arable land for the expansion of crop production.
The percentage of total land use for agriculture has remained constant since 2013 at 27.6 million hectares, which is 48.6 per cent of the country’s total land area, yet the population continues to increase at 2 per cent annually.
The total land area used for agriculture is further subdivided, with 77 per cent used for permanent meadows and pastures, 21 per cent arable land used for crop production and 1.9 per cent used for perennial crops like coffee and tea.
A report released in October 2021 by the National Land Commission on the effects of land fragmentation and food security in 13 counties in Kenya—with secondary data from KNBS—indicated that the number of smallholder farmers with less than five hectares increased by 55 per cent in 2015/2016. The study established that this was happening mostly in areas of high agricultural production.
The average decline of farm sizes is not only a serious threat to farm productivity and food security but also to natural ecosystems such as forests as it is one of the main causes of encroachment. The division of land into smaller units that are too small to be viable is not conducive to optimal economic production as the smaller portions cannot be used for the same purpose as before the subdivision.
As a result, in 2021, Kenya’s rate of dependency on importation for food production was 12.7 per cent with its self-sufficiency rate at 90.3 per cent.
Status of food security in Kenya
Kenya was ranked 94 out of 121 countries In the 2022 Global Hunger Index. The scores are calculated based on a formula that combines four indicators used to measure progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals: undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality.
Undernourishment or hunger focuses on the general population while the other indicators relate to children, who are particularly vulnerable. At a score of 23.5, Kenya’s hunger levels are considered “serious”. A score of 9.9 and below is recommended.
Further, Kenya was ranked 82 out of 113 countries in the 2022 Global Food Security Index, which measures four indicators—affordability, availability, quality and safety, and sustainability and adaptation. Affordability measures the ability of consumers to buy food, their vulnerability to price shocks and policies to support consumers when price shocks occur. Availability measures agricultural production and on-farm capabilities, the risk of supply disruption, and national capacity to disseminate food research to expand agricultural output. The quality and safety indicator measures the variety and nutritional quality of the average diet, as well as the safety of food, while the sustainability and adaptation indicator assesses a country’s exposure to impacts of climate change, its susceptibility to natural resource risks and how the country is adapting to these risks.
Kenya had an overall food security score of 53 per cent, which is the weighted average of the scores on the four indicators – affordability (41.7 per cent), availability (52.5 per cent), quality and safety (68.8 per cent) and sustainability and adaptation (52.6 per cent).
Of the four indicators, Kenya scored the lowest and below average on affordability, yet the ability to buy food is often overlooked as a factor in food security. Instead, hunger is often perceived through the lens of stark images in places like Turkana, Moyale and Wajir where large herds of livestock die and where people are perennially dependent on food aid.
As food costs continue to rise Kenyans have been cutting back on meals. “We have been forced to adjust to just two meals a day and sometimes one meal a day. We occasionally have fruits with meals and even further substitute some food items as we cannot afford them,” said Rose Mbaru, a Nairobi resident who told The Elephant that the cost of living has affected her family’s meal plans over the years.
Antonina Mutoro refers to this as a coping mechanism indicative of a household being food insecure, a situation that is commonplace in many Kenyan households.
Food security and affordability
In February, Kenyans spent 13.3 per cent more on food and non-alcoholic beverages, an increase of 1.2 per cent from January, with food prices being noted as a key driver of inflation amid a 9.2 per cent total average increase in the prices of goods and services. As of 16 March 2023, 10.8 million people were not consuming enough food.
Affordability is a key contributor to food insecurity; 17 per cent of the population lives on less than US$1.90 (Sh250) per day which translates to 8.9 million Kenyans living in extreme poverty. With the escalating food prices, people are using coping strategies like skipping meals and consuming cheaper and nutritionally inadequate food.
In countries where GMOs are permitted, food prices are lower by about 12.5 per cent. Proponents of genetically modified foods thus promote them as a chance to sustainably feed the growing population even as the country grapples with the worst drought ever.
While affordable food is a good thing, Felistus Mwala of Route to Food argued that the hunger situation should not be used as an opportunity to introduce GMOs. She said that the introduction of GMOs violates Kenyans’ right to food by infringing on the concept of acceptable quality.
A survey by Route to Food carried out last year assessed Kenyans’ perception of GMOs by looking at the level of awareness, willingness to consume and grow GMOs, and access to information on GMOs. It indicated that 57 per cent of Kenyans were not willing to consume GMOs, while 43 per cent were willing. It is disquieting to note that Kenyans who have more exposure to food insecurity, with less knowledge of GMOs, are more receptive to GMOs. Their willingness reflects their vulnerability rather than choice and free will.
Effect of drought
With the sixth failed rainy season in Kenya and high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, agricultural production has been severely affected, contributing to high food prices. GMOs are drought-resistant and studies have shown that genetically modified crops need up to 25 per cent less water to produce a regular yield.
Maize which is the staple food for Kenyans grows in areas with an annual rainfall of 600 to 1200 mm that is well distributed throughout the growing season. With irrigation, it can also be grown in the ASAL regions where annual rainfall does not exceed 100 mm. Therefore, even with the 25 per cent water reduction, GMO farming would still need to be heavily supplemented by irrigation.
Irrigation rates have been growing in Kenya but are not close to matching existing needs with irrigated fields occupying only two per cent of Kenya’s total area under agricultural production. More than 95 per cent of Kenya’s agricultural output is produced in rain-fed farming systems, yet only 17 per cent of the country’s arable land is deemed suitable for rain-fed agriculture. The remaining 83 per cent requires irrigation for optimal crop growth due to inadequate and infrequent rainfall.
Overreliance on maize
Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only affected food production and the cost of inputs but also disrupted supply chains, Kenya is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the last four decades, which has affected maize production. Moreover, the Russian war in Ukraine has affected the supply of grains and key inputs like fertilisers. All these events have resulted in the rise in the cost of production of maize to about KSh4,000 for a 90kg bag; a two-kilogramme packet of flour is retailing at KSh200.
“Over-reliance on maize, a staple food, is a key contributor to food insecurity. This means we are missing out on a variety of foods like millet and sorghum which are relatively nutritious. We have to diversify our dietary habits,” says Ms Mutoro.
“The introduction of GM maize is not solving the issue of overreliance but worsening it and taking away with it the opportunity of Kenyans exploring different foods with the same nutritional value that are less costly and require less water to produce,” adds Ms Mutoro.
Food loss and waste
Food loss and wastage also contribute to food insecurity. In Kenya, KSh72 billion is lost annually through food waste and post-harvest losses at different stages of the value chain according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United States Agency for International Development. The report estimates that post-harvest losses can reach up to 20 per cent for cereals, 30 per cent for dairy and fish and 40 per cent for fruits and vegetables.
While food loss and food waste are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Food loss is the decrease in quantity or quality resulting from the decisions and actions of food suppliers in the chain—for example, food that is discarded or incinerated along the supply chain, excluding the retail level, and does not re-enter at any productive level as either feed or seed. Food waste refers to a decrease in quantity or quality as a result of the decisions and actions of food service providers, retailers and consumers.
The gaps in our food system that contribute to food loss and wastage are farm management constraints, and market supply and policy-related constraints. Limited cold chain storage at the production level leads to produce going bad. Moreover, farmers’ limited awareness of timing of the entire crop production process, from planting to harvest, results in produce flooding the market.
On policy-related constraints, there are limited policies and strategies for the export of value-added produce and a poor regulatory environment and low government support for the food system supply chain.
Training on value addition through pre-cooking and biofortification may reduce the amount of harvested fresh produce going to waste and also put more money in farmers’ pockets. Farmers also need better access to post-harvest handling equipment like solar dryers for cereals like maize, pulses, and rice to ensure proper drying of produce and food safety by reducing aflatoxin levels. They also need cold chain management of vegetables and fruits from farms to packaging areas to lower spoilage by reducing dehydration. Supporting these technologies for local manufacturing would increase access and make them more affordable to small-scale farmers.
Moreover, diversification of the market for export so that grade 2 produce can be packaged and sold to the domestic market, as opposed to what is rejected being rendered as waste, would enhance the local supply of food. Improving road networks in rural areas for better rural-urban linkages to ease the transportation of farm produce to the end market would also serve as an intervention against food loss.
“With improved transport systems across the country for efficient food distribution, excess food in one region can reach regions with insufficient supply,” explained Ms Mutoro.
All these interventions require adequate allocations to the agriculture budget. While Kenya committed to increasing budgetary allocation to the sector to at least 10 per cent by ratifying the Maputo Protocol, the 2022/2023 budget allocated a meagre 1.39 per cent, making it difficult to invest in food storage systems and other off-farm activities.
Resilience through agroecology
According to Felistus Mwala of Route to Food, a key cog missing in the efforts to address food insecurity in the face of climate change is agroecology.
“Agroecology is an approach to farming and food systems that builds resilience against climate change and market shocks while empowering big and small producers. The concept and principles of agroecology extend beyond food production and off-the-farm, to whole food distribution and consumption. Farmers work with nature and use environmentally-friendly processes. They use what is locally available and low inputs. It not only promotes intergenerational equity but supports income and sustainable development,” said Ms Mwala.
Food security as a right
After all is said and done, all these interventions and the food security discussion must be underpinned by a focus on the constitutional right to food, according to Njeri Karanu, Senior Program Officer at Rural Outreach Africa and secretariat to the Right to Food Coalition.
“The constitution is explicit on the right to food in Article 43(1) c. In addition, we have many policies and laws that talk about food, but we have not moved the needle in the realisation of the right to food,” said Ms Karanu.
The high burden of malnutrition and routine hunger in Kenya is not only a threat to the achievement of national goals as well as the Sustainable Development Goals but is also an indication of inadequate realisation of human rights.
However, while Article 43(1) c is an important milestone and the basis for the realisation of the right to food, it is not sufficient in itself as it does not provide an elaborate framework to actualise this right. Therefore, the Right to Food Coalition—a partnership of 40 civil society organisations made up of researchers, academia, policy think tanks, consumer groups, and legal and media organisations—is developing a legal framework with binding obligations to realise this right.
The proposed Right to Food Bill will outline policies and accountability and redress mechanisms, and the resources needed to address challenges faced by Kenyans in accessing healthy food. It will use a systems lens to address issues cutting across sectors and groups, including access to water, land and tenure rights, inadequate safety nets, and poverty, among others. Although the right to food is achieved progressively, there should be a baseline to ensure there is no regression.
“The right-to-food bill will be developed in a participatory process by civil society and government, taking into account the needs of all Kenyans from all walks of life. A human rights approach to solving the problem of hunger and malnutrition is transformative. It addresses the inequities in the food system, promotes meaningful citizen participation, and establishes accountability mechanisms. It takes a long time, but it holds the promise to deliver long-term solutions,” says Ms Karanu.
The path to alleviating food insecurity is layered with complex challenges and GMOs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. “A rights-based multifaceted approach that looks at the underlying structural causes of food insecurity and focuses on sustainability is best,” concludes Ms Mwala.
This article was 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).
UK Tea Firms Fail in Closing Gender Pay Gap in Their Kenyan Holdings
Kenyan holdings of UK firms should be required to report locally on gender equality and gender pay gap like they do in the UK where mandatory reporting has led to transparency and sustained action towards closing the gap.
In recent years, there has been a push for gender gap reporting as part of measures to promote gender equality. The World Economic Forum first published its Global Gender Gap Index in 2006, to compare gender gaps in economic opportunities, education, health and political participation, and has published regular reports since then.
In Kenya, Equileap first published a report on gender equality in Kenya in 2019, evaluating gender balance in leadership and workforce, equal compensation and work-life balance, policy and commitment, transparency and accountability in publicly listed companies.
While some companies have made progress in some areas, the gender pay gap—the difference in average earnings between men and women—persists. Globally and locally, women are still paid much less than men.
Equileap’s 2019 report, which assessed companies listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, found that, on average, women in Kenya earned 32 per cent less than their male counterparts. This was less than the global average. Globally, women earned 23 per cent less than their male counterparts.
Subsequently, Kenya was ranked ninth in Sub-Saharan Africa, lagging behind Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, and Burundi, and ranked 57 out of 146 nations overall, and 56th on wage equality on the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). According to the WEF, it will take women 257 years to achieve gender parity.
This year as the world marks the International Women’s Day, whose theme is “Embrace Equity”, the Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP) is launching a gender pay gap campaign to challenge Kenyan companies to produce gender pay gap reports. Such reports are crucial to monitoring the efforts that companies are making to have a diverse workforce, and be inclusive and equitable.
The gender pay gap, says the International Labour Organization, is a barrier to economic growth and has a significant impact on other key sustainable development goals such as reducing poverty and ending gender inequality. The campaign will focus on all sectors where women are under-represented and their work is under-valued.
The principle of gender pay equity is provided for in Kenya’s Employment Act, 2007, which requires an employer to pay their employees equal pay for work of equal value. Further, Articles 27 and 41 of the Constitution also enshrine gender pay equity by providing for gender equality and, specifically freedom from discrimination, the right to fair remuneration and the right to fair labour practices. The principle of gender pay equity is also covered in Goal 5, on gender equality, of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals ratified and adopted by Kenya and other member states of the United Nations in 2015. Kenya has also ratified the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which prohibits discrimination based on sex and provides for equal remuneration in Convention 111 and 100 respectively. In particular, CEDAW provides that each member state will promote and ensure the principle of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value.
Women are paid less over the course of their careers and subsequently save less for their retirement, subjecting them and their dependents to lifelong poverty.
These commitments notwithstanding, Kenyan women still earn less than men, with far-reaching consequences. Closing the gender pay gap in the Kenyan workforce matters because it is a glaring injustice as it violates women’s rights, devalues their work, reduces their spending power, and makes their position unequal to men from the household to the national level.
The gender pay gap is not just about pay discrimination. It arises because of the inequalities women face in access to work, progression and rewards. The European Commission states that “around 24 per cent of the gender pay gap is related to the overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors such as care, health and education. Highly feminised jobs tend to be systemically undervalued.” Moreover, thanks to the glass ceiling, men dominate higher-paying jobs.
The European Commission also argues that women have more work hours per week than men, but they spend more hours on unpaid work, which may affect women’s career choices.
As a result, women are paid less over the course of their careers and subsequently save less for their retirement, subjecting them and their dependents to lifelong poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these consequences.
According to Action Aid, the gap contributes to financial insecurity and poverty among women, limits women’s life choices and leaves them more vulnerable to violence and other forms of discrimination and exploitation, since they are more likely to be financially dependent on men or other family members. This dependency can limit a woman’s ability to leave a violent partner.
Case for narrowing and closing the gap
During an Equal Pay International Coalition pledging event at the 2018 United Nations General Assembly in New York, Angel Gurría who was the OECD Secretary General at the time said, “Gender pay gaps are not only unfair for those who suffer them, but they are also detrimental to our economies. If you do not have equal pay productivity suffers, competitiveness suffers and the economy at large suffers.”
Further, the Council of Foreign Relations, a non-governmental organisation in the United States, through its Women and Foreign Policy programme, analysed how to grow economies through gender parity. Their research indicated that with gender parity in the workforce, GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa would be US$721 billion by 2025.
In Kenya, this could translate to a 12 per cent (US$16 billion) increase in GDP if women’s participation in the workforce matched the best country in the region in terms of gender parity, and 22 per cent (US$28 billion) if women’s participation in the Kenyan workforce was fully equal to men’s. The participation rate as of 2021, which is the current available data, was at 75.6 per cent for men. This means that nearly 76 in every 100 men aged 15-64 years were economically active. Among women, the rate was lower, at 71 per cent. Not only is women’s participation in the workforce lower, they also grapple with pay imbalances.
Among them are women in the agricultural sector, which contributes 22 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 54 per cent of the economically active population, according to the World Bank. Of all the workers employed in agriculture, 59 per cent are women.
As such, the sector is critical to gender pay equity because women account for nearly 60 per cent of the agricultural workforce, and one of the primary reasons for this is men’s rural-urban migration in search of paid employment in towns and cities, either in their own country or abroad.
Even in cases where men remain in rural areas, women are responsible for the production of food crops for domestic consumption and sale, as well as the rearing of animals. They are also the primary keepers of crop variety and production knowledge. Despite this, they are not fairly compensated for their work because they do not own the land. In Kenya, only 25 per cent of women own agricultural land compared to 34 per cent of men. Of the women who own land, only 3 per cent are sole owners in contrast with 26 per cent of men.
Moreover, with a high inflation rate of 9 per cent in January 2023 and higher unemployment rates—186,402 jobs were lost in 2020 according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics—women, who accounted for 61.9 per cent of the jobs lost during the pandemic, are more vulnerable to exploitation. Moreover, the economic realities make it harder for them to negotiate fair wages. Lack of pay transparency through measures such as gender pay gap reporting also hinders the ability to negotiate.
Even in cases where men remain in rural areas, women are responsible for the production of food crops for domestic consumption and sale, as well as the rearing of animals.
Nowhere are the disparities more evident than in the tea sector, the second top foreign exchange earner for Kenya after horticulture, contributing 23 per cent of total foreign exchange earnings and two per cent of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). Annually, the country produces over 450 million kilogrammes of tea of which 22 per cent is exported, earning the country KSh120 billion and making it one of the commodities that play a key role in the economy. In 2021, tea brought in KSh130.9 billion in revenue.
Tea production in Kenya is divided into two clearly differentiated sectors: the big plantations and the smallholder farmers. Over 60 per cent of production takes place on small-scale farms in Kenya, while the rest takes place in large plantations owned by companies like James Finlay and Williamson Tea.
A study of gender roles in smallholder tea production in Kenya found that women are more likely to be engaged in labour-intensive tasks in tea production—including leaf plucking and transporting plucked leaves—but are excluded from capacity-building events such as producer trainings.
Tina Makokha (not her real name) is one such woman who has worked at the James Finlay farm in Kericho for 10 years. She started out on a wage of Sh190 per day as a tea picker, and despite receiving four certificates of merit for being an exceptional employee, she earns Sh689 per day for nine hours of work per day, six days a week. After tea-picking was mechanised, women were moved from that role and given jobs in weeding, sorting the tea before transportation and clearing the cuttings left on the tea bed by the plucking machines, which are operated by men.
For the last three months, Tina has worked without pay. She is afflicted with work-related illness as a result of the agrochemicals used on the tea, but when she visits the company’s dispensary, she says the doctors downplay her complaints of chest congestion and chronic coughing. She injured her back while packing tea four months ago, and the company refused to pay her medical bills until the union threatened to sue on her behalf. The company, she claims, reluctantly subsidised her medical treatment at the company’s health centre and informed her that any specialised treatment she needed would be her responsibility.
When she refused to sign a liability waiver, the company withheld her pay she said. They’ve also stopped providing her with subsidised medical care at the dispensary.
“I’m not sure why they wanted me to sign a document that I didn’t understand. I have had to forego treatment for my back because they have withdrawn their support.
“I cannot afford the treatment because it is very expensive,” she says during the interview, which is punctuated by bouts of coughing.
She claims that she and other workers have complained to management about their working conditions, but their demands have been ignored. Tina has had to take out loans to pay for her medical treatment. At one point, she was admitted to hospital for two weeks without receiving any treatment as she did not have the money to pay.
The health centre’s services are insufficient, forcing workers like Tina to use their meagre resources to seek treatment elsewhere.
The company has established schools for its employees and those living in the vicinity of the extensive tea plantations. However, this is yet another example of the disconnect between reality and the directors’ reporting to shareholders. Tea workers like Tina must pay a hefty fee — between KSh1,000 and KSh1,200 per month—for their children to attend the company-provided school.
Tina’s daughter is still at home after scoring 328 points in the 2022 KCPE exam. Tina is unable to pay her secondary school fees because she spent all of her savings on medical treatment.
The health centre’s services are insufficient, forcing workers like Tina to use their meagre resources to seek treatment elsewhere.
“The company has built a few schools. But these are not free. The company deducts between Sh1,000 and 1,200 every month if your child attends the school. None of us has ever gotten the scholarships that the company offers as these are usually granted to the children of the managers,” she says.
Tina’s life is a snapshot of the negative effects of the gender pay gap, not just on women, but also on communities and the economy at large.
Gender pay gap disclosure
The UK, where the parent company of James Finlay Kenya is based, historically had one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe, where for every pound men earned women earned 80 pence (for every Sh154 men earned women earned Sh122). That’s why in 2017, the UK government introduced mandatory gender pay gap reporting to narrow and eventually eliminate the pay disparity between men and women. This compelled private sector firms and public sector organisations with 250 or more employees in England, Scotland and Wales to report and publish their gender pay gap information using the gender pay gap service on their snapshot date, which is the 30th of March for most public authority employers and the 5th of April for private and other public authority employers.
The report includes figures on the percentage of men and women in each hourly pay quarter, the average gender pay gap using hourly pay, the mean gender pay gap using the hourly wage, the percentage of men and women receiving bonus pay and the median gender pay gap using bonus pay. Although discretionary, they may also publish a supporting narrative and an action plan to help explain their gender pay gap.
“The company has built a few schools. But these are not free. The company deducts between Sh1,000 and 1,200 every month if your child attends the school.”
The policy aims to make employers publicly accountable for their gender pay gaps and impel them to explain why they exist while using the gender pay gap reporting tool to inform decisions about pay structures and broader diversity and inclusion. Four years after the policy was adopted, research from the London School of Economics indicated the legislation had narrowed the earning gap between men and women by 19 per cent.
In line with the mandatory reporting requirement, Finlays (James Finlay Kenya’s parent company in the UK) files a gender pay gap report in its home country. The latest data indicate that the mean hourly pay for men is 3.9 per cent higher than that for women; median hourly pay for men is 10.6 per cent higher than that for women; mean bonus pay for women is 69.7 per cent higher than that for men; median bonus pay for women is 296.3 per cent higher than that for men and 32.8 per cent of male employees received a bonus, while 22.4 per cent of female employees received a bonus.
What about Kenya?
But although the subsidiary company that employs thousands of workers in Kenya, James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd, is registered in the UK, it is not obliged to file similar reports because the employees are not based in the UK. Even though Kenya has committed to gender pay equity through laws such as the Constitution and the Employment Act, and international conventions like CEDAW and SDGs, there are no specific guidelines to compel local companies to file gender pay gap reports.
Williamson Tea is another top tea exporter whose parent company is in the UK. The UK shareholder company does not file gender pay gap reports because it does not employ enough staff there to fall within the UK’s mandatory reporting threshold. However, the Equileap report on gender equality in Kenya, which evaluated measures including equal pay in companies listed in the Nairobi Securities Exchange, gave Williamson Tea a gender equality score of 3 per cent and ranked it at position 56 out of 60 companies. Other listed agricultural companies were also ranked: Limuru Tea (34 per cent at position 19), Sasini (16 per cent at position 42), Kakuzi (15 per cent at position 44), Eaagads (13 per cent at position 51) and Kapchorua Tea Kenya (3 per cent at position 57).
In contrast, the top three companies—Standard Chartered Kenya, WPP Scan Group and Safaricom—scored 63 per cent for offering a living wage, gender-balanced leadership and workforce, and workplace policies that promote gender equality, respectively.
The Equileap report, which used publicly available information such as the companies’ annual reports, CSR reports and websites, however, noted a lack of transparency in compensation. None of the 60 companies disclosed gender-segregated pay information, and 37 of the companies (62 per cent) did not publish information on the gender composition of their workforce.
In the UK, where Finlays and Williamson Tea have parent companies or controlling shareholders, the Equileap report revealed a gender equality score of 37 per cent versus Kenya’s 26 per cent. In 2021, the company wage bill for James Finlay Ltd was US$12.8 million (KSh1.9 billion) and it employed an average of 82 people, implying an average wage of US$156,000 (KSh 2.3 billion) for its UK head office. In contrast, the 2020 accounts for James Finlay Kenya showed that the average wage for its 6,667 employees was £2,513 (KSh372,828.68).
In 2020, the workforce of James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd was composed of management and administration, which accounted for 446 and 393 workers respectively, and sales and production, which accounted for 5,828 workers (87 per cent of their workforce). Given the structure of the tea sector in Kenya, most of these workers are likely women picking or packing tea in the fields and factories. Moreover, the 6,667 workforce for James Finlay Kenya far outstrips the numbers employed by the UK head office and manufacturing plants.
The Africa Women Journalism Project asked Finlays the mean and median hourly pay for men and women working at James Finlay Kenya and whether the company had data internally to produce a gender pay gap report for the Kenyan workforce. AWJP also asked Finlays if gender pay gap reports have helped focus attention on companies closing the gap and whether they would commit to publishing such a report voluntarily in Kenya, the location of their biggest workforce, in the next 12 months as part of a progressive corporate move.
In the UK report, Finlays Group HR Director Tamie Hutchins had said that the company was “committed to closing the gender pay gap, to equal pay and to fostering a transparent and fair working environment that rewards employees based on their performance and contribution to the success of our business.”
Given the structure of the tea sector in Kenya, most of these workers are likely women picking or packing tea in the fields and factories.
Further, Ms Hutchins said, “Finlays is committed to being an employer that demonstrates opportunity, fairness and equality and the work we are doing to reduce our UK Gender Pay Gap is essential to us achieving this goal. We are pleased to see continued improvements in our mean gender pay gap, especially in view of the impact Covid has had on working women in the UK, which has been reflected in the increase in the UK pay gap in 2021.”
In an email response to AWJP’s questions, Ms Hutchins said: “While we currently only publish gender pay gap data for our UK business, we do have plans in our new sustainability strategy, which runs to 2030, to extend the measure of gender pay gap across the whole of Finlays.”
In 2021, the company also launched the Finlays Women in Business Forum which Ms Hutchins said was “helping our female employees find their voice and supporting us in driving through the changes they tell us are needed.” Ms Hutchins was quoted in the 2021 report saying that the company’s focus in 2022 would be “to better understanding (sic) our pay quartile splits and the impact these are having on our pay gap and on opportunities for women working within our business.”
However, in response to AWJP’s question on whether there are any Kenyans on the forum and whether it discusses issues to do with women in the Kenyan workforce, Ms Hutchins said that the Women in Business Network relates to Finlays’ UK and US businesses and that James Finlay Kenya has a “Women in Leadership Programme” which “sees women in both senior and junior management undertaking a nine-month leadership development programme facilitated by Kenya Institute of Management.”
“The programme’s objective is to equip women with leadership skills and provide a network where safe discussion on work-related practices and personal empowerment can take place,” she said, adding that 28 senior managers and 23 junior managers have graduated from the programme, while 25 women are currently enrolled.
However, for women in their Kenyan sales and production workforce like Tina, such programmes in a company that has committed to fairness, equality and closing the gender pay gap, sound like a far-fetched dream.
Tina told us that her wages barely cater for living expenses and despite receiving certificates of merit for exemplary performance, she neither feels rewarded nor sees any promotions in the pipeline.
While the workers did not previously have a way to air their grievances and were also afraid of management, Tina said that the company recently began instituting a channel for the workers to air their grievances.
While Ms Hutchins did not respond to the questions on mean and median hourly pay in Kenya, Tina said she earns Sh689 per day for nine hours a day, six days a week, which she said is the standard pay for tea pickers and packers at the company.
In the absence of mandatory or voluntary gender gap reports, women face not just discrimination and injustice but vulnerability to exploitation and abuse. Recently, the BBC revealed tens of cases of sexual exploitation and sexual harassment of women working in tea farms in Kericho, including at James Finlay Kenya and Unilever Tea (which was sold to Lipton Teas). In response, Finlays said it had suspended the manager implicated in the documentary, reported the matter to the police and launched investigations into sexual violence in the company.
AWJP asked Finlays to comment on whether empowering women in their Kenyan workforce through gender pay gap reporting may help avoid these kinds of issues in the future. Finlays did not give a direct answer. Finlays Group HR Director Tamie Hutchins said the company was deeply shocked by the allegations and has policies in place to prevent abuse of any kind.
Tina said she earns Sh689 per day for nine hours a day, six days a week, which she said is the standard pay for tea pickers and packers at the company.
“As we are still formulating our approach, we are not in a position to provide specific details at the current time, but I assure you it is an area that we are working to address,” said Ms Hutchins in response to the question on whether gender pay gap reporting could help prevent cases of abuse highlighted in the BBC documentary.
Tina, who works as a tea packer at James Finlay Kenya, said that in dealing with issues of the pay gap the company would need to start with the way workers are hired and treated. She said that the contractors the company brought in to source for workers are exploitative; they pay between KSh250 and Sh300 per day, while workers employed directly by the company are paid KSh689 per day.
“While it is difficult to comment on the claims of an individual who has chosen to remain anonymous, to allow us to investigate fully, we encourage Tina to raise her concerns through the available channels, which include an anonymous whistleblowing line monitored by head office in London. I assure her that all concerns raised will be investigated, and appropriate support will be provided where needed,” James Finlay’s Tamie Hutchins stated.
“The health and safety and welfare of everyone connected to our business are of paramount importance to James Finlay Kenya. We have a well-established health and safety programme which includes staff training programmes, processes to ensure that we maintain a safe working environment for all workers, and a robust monitoring and improvement process which identifies opportunities for further development. We have a dedicated team of 22 individuals who oversee welfare at James Finlay Kenya, and a wide range of support is available to all on site.”
After the BBC documentary, Finlays said it had terminated its agreement with contracting company Sislo Holdings (whose owner was accused of sexual exploitation), and offered direct employment to the 300 workers who had been contracted by that company. She added that an approachable and respectful management, as well as an effective redress mechanism to protect women from sexual exploitation during recruitment and pathways to promotions for exceptional work would go a long way in closing the gender pay gap.
Not just Finlays
Williamson Tea is another major tea company and exporter in Kenya with significant links to the UK.
Although a listed company on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, it is ultimately majority owned by the Magor family in the UK. Its listing in Nairobi also means it has to publish its annual financial statements, which show that in 2021/22, the company’s total wage bill for its 1,105-strong workforce was KSh488,007,002, an average of KSh441,635. In contrast, the total paid to its three executive directors that year was KSh49,112,000, an average of KSh16,370,666. Moreover, its entire board of directors is male.
As a Kenyan company, Williamson Tea Kenya is not obliged to produce a gender pay gap report, but we challenged the company to provide some data and commit to doing so for our campaign.
The company had not responded to our questions by the time of publication.
Requiring local reporting on gender equality and gender pay gap, just like in the UK, where mandatory reporting has led to transparency and sustained action towards closing the gap, could also boost efforts to reduce the gap.
The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) wrote a gender equality and inclusion guidebook for the private sector in 2014 to “entrench principles of equality and inclusion in business practices in Kenya.” In it, the NGEC recommends that private companies monitor gender equality and inclusion indicators such as total workforce numbers, annual numbers recruited and promoted, and contract terms by sex, as well as the pay gap between the sexes and employee satisfaction surveys. The NGEC also recommends that companies collect data on work-life balance and career development to track access to career progression opportunities through training and promotions. It recommends that companies develop and implement policies on gender equality and inclusion, and collect and publicly disclose data and reports on the status and progress made in the implementation of the recommended principles.
However, none of these guidelines are mandatory, so companies are not compelled to act to reduce the gender pay gap and other forms of gender inequality and as such, even though Kenya has ratified various conventions on equal pay, without mandatory reporting criteria, employers are not held to account to provide information on gender matrices.
A report published in 2021 by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College London recommends actions countries can take to build systems that bridge the gender pay gap in tandem with policies on parental leave, minimum wage and pay transparency as part of a broader strategy to address workplace gender inequality.
The report recommends not just laws, but also guidelines from the government as well as monitoring and enforcement of compliance. In the report, the researchers recommend that employers be made accountable to government agencies and publish transparent gender pay gap reports.
“Gender pay gap reports should be included in a company’s annual report and sent to shareholders, investors and other interested parties. Employers should also, crucially, be accountable down to their employees, whether to a group of employee representatives, trade unions, or to the organisation as a whole.”
Even though Kenya has ratified various conventions on equal pay, without mandatory reporting criteria, employers are not held to account to provide information on gender matrices.
Beyond publishing pay gap reports, the institute recommends that companies provide action plans with clear, measurable and time-bound goals to narrow the gap, and that sanctions be applied to those who do not comply with laws on gender equality. Moreover, because small and medium-size businesses account for majority of employers, policies to address the gender pay gap should not be limited to large employers alone. In addition, government and employers should collect data on the difficulties faced by women based on social factors that could keep them from workforce participation and career progression.
For employers, the institute recommends that they advertise all jobs as flexible where possible, address blockages to women’s employment and progression, work to increase pay transparency and end outsourcing of low-paid workers where possible.
Enforcing gender pay reporting through the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action can help narrow the gap by improving compliance and the quality of reporting by ensuring the reporting processes are followed by actionable, custom-fit and executable plans to address existing pay gaps.
This article was produced as part of the Financial Reporting Skills for Gender Reporting Fellowship with support from the Africa Women Journalism Project in partnership with Finance Uncovered and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).
Elections 2022: Perceptions From the Ground
Voter experiences during the election process revealed different experiences from Kenyans.
Kenya held its general elections on August 9, 2022. A total of 14 million registered voters turned up for the exercise. Angaza Kura, a free election monitoring tool, conducted a survey to capture the experience of voters as they engaged in the electoral process as well as map incidents of electoral violence and more. The survey, which ran from August 1 to August 31, 2022, covered 29 counties in Kenya and targeted adults aged 18 years and above. The survey instrument consisted of closed-ended and open-ended questions that were designed to gather information on the pre-election, election day and post election. The data collection process involved administering an online survey through a web-based platform. With a sample size of 267 respondents which is a smaller size than what is considered statistically significant of a calculated sample of 1,067 to represent the entire 14 million voters turn out therefore, this provided an indication rather than a definitive representation of the population.
The survey focused on the voter’s experiences during the election process and the extent to which they felt the elections were free, fair, and credible. It aimed to establish whether Kenyans had exercised their right to vote, as well as their satisfaction with the election results and the entire electoral process. Additionally, the survey sought to establish if there had been any form of violence during the election period.
The survey revealed that in the pre-election period, clashes between supporters of opposing candidates were the most reported incident in Wajir, Uasin Gishu, and Kakamega. This suggests that clashes that were instigated by candidates or their supporters recordedthe significant source of tension and disagreement among individuals and groups. Interestingly, since Kenya introduced multiparty elections in 1992, the 2022 elections was the first electoral cycle were ethnic tensions did not record the highest source of conflict. However, they were still a factor of tension during the election season.
The majority of respondents also rated their area as very peaceful or peaceful. However, a significant minority gave a rating of not very peaceful or violent.
Voter Education and Campaigns Experience
The survey also examined the voter education and campaign experience. Majority of the respondents were not voting for the first time. 23% of the respondents were first time voters. This shows that a relatively small portion of the population is experiencing the voting process for the first time. More than three-quarters of the respondents said they had received sufficient information to prepare them to vote in the election.
However, over three-quarters of the respondents felt that hate speech was highly present during the campaign period.
Half of the respondents reported witnessing voter intimidation or incitement during the campaign period in their area. This despite, the aggressive civic education by government and civic society. Inspite of recorded increase in political hygiene among political actors, the analysis reveals the need to re-think civic education with respect to increasing political hygiene during electoral processes.
On election day, the most reported incidents reported mailny involved the voter habits, viz. how Kenyans carried themselves as they voted. In most polling stations, order and sense of calm was recorded among Kenyans. Ethnic clashes, and candidate supporters clashes were however reported. Most of these events were organic and sporadic in different areas. This suggests what Fredrick Ajwang and Geoffrey Lugano had predicted in a piece for this platform, that the August 2022 elections will not only will they be relatively peaceful but also that Kenya’s history of large-scale political violence may be a thing of the past.
The report also indicated that respondents were split on whether the elections were free, fair, and credible and whether they were satisfied with the elections results. 51% indicated that the elections were free, fair and credible and 49% indicated that the elections were not free, fair and credible.
More than 10% of all the respondents came from Kisumu, Nairobi, Vihiga, Kwale and Mombasa.
The survey found that the respondents differed on this issue, and it aimed to explore the underlying reasons for this split in opinion. One possible explanation for the split in opinion is that the nature, the issues, and the organising principles of these elections. To be specific, not having massive violence, a shift from ethnic politics of organising to religous, class and economic organisng, contributed to this shift. Also, how the results were tallied was a contributor to the divergent opinion.
In conclusion, the Angaza Kura survey provides valuable insights into the experiences and concerns of Kenyan voters during the 2022 general elections. The survey highlights the need for greater attention to be paid to issues related to hate speech, incitement, and electoral violence. Additionally, the survey underscores the importance of ensuring that the election process is free, fair, and credible, and that all voters are informed and prepared to participate in the electoral process. By addressing these issues, Kenya can take significant steps towards creating a more peaceful, democratic, and inclusive society.
This publication was funded/co-funded by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of The Elephant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
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