Food security key to development and population planning

In Summary

• In Kenya, despite various challenges over the years, we have made great strides in ensuring that the nation is food secure.

•  As we make progress, we will also need to pay closer attention to women, girls and the elderly in the rural environments,

Treasury CS Ukur Yatani.
Treasury CS Ukur Yatani.
Image: FILE

According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, virtually one in seven people around the world are chronically hungry, lacking sufficient food to lead energetic and healthy lives. This is inspite of the fact that the existing food supplies can comfortably feed the world’s population.

The resolutions from the just-concluded 54th Conference of the Commission on Population and Development of the United Nations, re-ignites an important debate on the nexus between population, sustainable development and food security especially since food security remains a top concern for governments world over. Food security in particular, remains a key priority as the world copes with the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Notably, the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 renewed the world’s commitment to the implementation of the Programme of Action, which remains a blue-print towards addressing food insecurity while harnessing the gains since the 1994 ICPD Conference in Cairo, Egypt. With this in mind, there is a need for member states of the ICPD to comprehensively re-evaluate and re-strategize the Programme of Action in the context of population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development as the global community works towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by 2030, which coincides with the target year for achieving the Programme of Action.

In Kenya, despite various challenges over the years, we have made great strides in ensuring that the nation is food secure while taking cognizance of the various population undercurrents as well as its unique needs as far as food and nutrition requirements are concerned. As we make progress, we will also need to pay closer attention to women, girls and the elderly in the rural environments, while re-evaluating the dynamics of achieving healthy lifestyles for all Kenyans. 

As a continent, the resolutions of the ICPD Conference in Nairobi, clearly point to a defining moment where Africa needs to recognize its population as a key development resource, and be proactive about developing home-grown solutions towards ending hunger, improving nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture and guaranteeing food security for our population. This will require the generation of advanced fiscal models and resources from governments, local and international financial institutions and private sector players.


Leveraging on the Big 4 Agenda for Sustainable Development

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has already taken cognizance of this through one of the pillars of the Big Four Agenda: ensuring 100% food and nutritional security for the Kenyan population by 2022. This is to be achieved by increasing the daily average income of farmers by 34%, reducing malnutrition among children below the age of 5 years by 27% and reducing the population of food-insecure Kenyans by 50%.

The Big Four Agenda appreciates that a healthy nation with adequate food security and nutrition is key to sustainable development by relentlessly applying measures to eradicate poverty, create wealth and reduce inequalities especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenya’s Population Trends

Kenya’s population has increased from 10.9 million in the year 1969 to 47.6 million in the year 2019, amplifying demand for food production and exerting pressure on the environment which, coupled with the adverse effects of climate change such as frequent droughts, extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, pose the greatest threat to the country’s efforts to achieve food security, nutrition and sustainable development. Another threat lies in the country’s ability to address the current 20 – 30% annual deficit in the production of staples which is driven by the high population growth, projected to be at 2.3% per annum.

 Food-scape and Nutrition in Kenya 

Nutritional trends in Kenya show that, nationally, 26% of children under five years of age are stunted (low height-for-age), 4% are wasted (low weight-for-height) while 11% are underweight (low weight-for-age), depicting chronic under-nourishment. Due to this malnutrition, these children are less likely to develop an immune system capable of warding off illnesses, resulting in their poor cognitive development and overall physical stunting. Such children are less likely to perform well in school due to attention deficits, reduced reasoning, learning and memory.

Kenya is also increasingly faced with the emergence of diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, obesity among others. These diseases are mainly caused by a change in lifestyle characterized by excessive intake of highly refined and high-fat content foods, sugar and salt, coupled with limited physical activity, a characteristic of urban settings. It is estimated that 28% of Kenyans aged 18-69 years are either overweight or obese. With the percentage being significantly higher in women (38.5%) than men (17.5%).

Sustainable Food Systems for a Healthy Population

Kenya’s efforts to ensure harmonious relationships between population, food security and sustainable development has over the years gained momentum amidst climate change and other exogenous factors such as the recent locust invasion and the current Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding. The country continues supporting regional bodies in their development of regional policies to address the cross-border proportions of food security and nutrition, while driving the focus towards building strong regional markets.

It will be key to engage with international agencies specifically created to empower locally-driven climate actions and systematically address overall climate finance gaps and opportunities.  This coupled with the implementation of the Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy and the provision of the universal health coverage will boost quality and affordable healthcare for all Kenyans.

While all these government programmes towards ensuring food security are implemented, it will also be also critical to move a step further by promoting healthy lifestyles and diets amongst Kenyans.  

In conclusion, let us remember that food security and nutrition are key to achieving human development goals particularly SDG II: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, derived from the 1974 World Food Summit definition of food security as, “Ensuring that all people at all time have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they need”.

These global standards have bound nations together to ensure that their populations enjoy safe food at all times in sufficient quantity and quality to satisfy their nutritional needs for optimal health throughout their lifetime. The Government of Kenya will continue its unrelenting commitment towards achieving these ideals through its implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action and Big Four Agenda for national development.

Hon. (Amb) Ukur Yatani, EGH is the Cabinet Secretary for The National Treasury and Planning.