By Sharon Atieno

With more than 14 out of every 50 Kenyans suffering from chronic food insecurity, several civil society organizations (CSOs) drawn from the food, nutrition and agriculture sector have developed a food manifesto to address the issue.

The CSOs including the Route to Food Initiative, Inter- Sectoral Forum on Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity (ISFAA), African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Rural Outreach Africa, the Right to Food Coalition, PELUM Kenya, Consumer Grassroots Association, BIBA, Concern Worldwide, Nutri-Produce, Kenya Organic Agriculture Network and BEACON are calling on political leaders to incorporate the food agenda into their manifestos and incorporate their proposed solutions to solve the food and nutrition insecurity in the country.

Among the nine proposals in the document dubbed The Food Manifesto: Putting Food on the Table is the need to prioritize the food and nutrition security agenda. Under this, the CSOs recommend that the elected government places food and nutrition security as a top  national agenda that is, give it as much prominence as national security, handle it at the presidency level and implement a robust coordination structure for food and nutrition security issues.

Also, they recommend that there should be regular presidential address on food and nutrition security status in the country- at least twice every year to ensure that all Kenyans and stakeholders are kept abreast of the issues and the progress being made in addressing them.

In the second proposal, the CSOs are calling for the fulfilment of State obligations on the right to food as enshrined in the Constitution and propose that the elected government prioritizes development of a clear legal framework for the Right to Adequate Food and justifiability mechanisms, reviews all relevant laws and policies to align them with this right as well as take proactive measures through relevant policies and public investments to ensure the progressive realization of the Right to adequate food for all.

With reduced agricultural productivity and profitability affecting producer’s income and livelihoods, the third proposal calls for the need to mitigate this by government providing subsidized insurance against climate change-related losses for producers, developing mechanisms and offering incentives to enroll producers in government social security and welfare programs, providing adequate knowledge to farmers on climate change mitigation and placing mechanisms and incentives for rural development and investments to create alternative income sources for rural communities.

The Manifesto also calls for the need to ensure food safety by the government fast tracking the establishment of a food safety authority to address all food safety issues and withdrawing all harmful toxic pesticides in the Kenyan market.

Additionally, there is a proposal to revamp extension services in the country. The CSOs recommend that the government commits to invest in public extension services (ensure at least one extension officer per 300 farmers), integrate farmer knowledge and experiences in national extension programs, and regulate information and knowledge transfer to farmers from profit-making companies to curb misinformation and manipulation of farmers.

The sixth proposal addresses the issue of service delivery and access to infrastructure in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) areas, noting that there is need to invest in infrastructure to ensure the easy flow of goods and commodities as well as enhance market systems for livestock and other ASAL products to provide better livelihoods and incomes for communities living in these areas.

Also, the CSOs are calling for increased budgetary allocation to agriculture from four percent to at least 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Similarly, they are agitating for diversification of investment towards agriculture beyond mega projects to include a focus on supporting smallholder farming, local and sustainable farming techniques.

Seed sovereignty is also being advocated for in the Manifesto. The CSOs are recommending that the government invests in building strong farmer-managed seed systems, develop/ re-structure the current seed laws to allow farmers to share and trade in their own seeds freely and disown GMO projects and avoid using public resources to support these initiatives.

The last proposal is calling for increased coverage in social safety nets for vulnerable households through increased financial commitment, increased allocation to beneficiary households and ensuring transparency in targeting and inclusion criteria through National Government Administration Officers (NGAO).

“Political will and commitment is the ingredient that is missing in the actualization of the right to food in Kenya,” Dr. Elizabeth Kimani- Murage, senior scientist and Lead Zero Hunger APHRC said during the launch of the Food Manifesto.

She called for the need to view food not as a commodity but as a public good and not leaving it to the market system who keep on dictating food prices making it available and accessible only to those that can afford. “Market system is not a human right based system. Everyone is entitled to have food whether they have money or not,” Dr. Kimani-Murage noted.

According to Kevin Shingles, Country Director, Weltehungerhilfe, to feed the growing population, issues related to the food system have to be addressed.  This includes building resilient systems that can enhance food and nutrition security at all situations regardless of climate change and other emergency situations, he said.

Additionally, Shingles noted that the fight against hunger requires political solutions not only policy but turning policy to action which includes making funding available especially at county levels.

Advocating for food to be a top agenda for government, Dr. Martin Oulu, Coordinator, ISFAA said: “Issues of agriculture are devolved but if food is at the highest level of government then it becomes easier for it to trickle down and be mainstreamed at a lower level.”