1.6 Million Kenyans Face Hunger- Who Will Uphold Their Right to Food?

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Human Right to Food Workshop organized by Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Nairobi office on 3rd and 4th March 2015

1.6 Million Kenyans Face Hunger- Who Will Uphold Their Right to Food?

“Over 80 per cent of Kenya’s population of 40 million derives their livelihoods from agriculture and pastoralism. Four million small farm households produce three-quarters of the country’s food. The key actors are women, who account for 75 per cent of the labour force in small-scale agriculture, manage 40 per cent of small farms and play the major role in food preparation and storage. Yet Kenya’s farmers face massive challenges. Their landholdings are small, productivity is low and most have little access to inputs, financial services and markets to sell any surplus produce. Poverty and hunger remain deep and persistent. Around 48 per cent of Kenyans, especially subsistence farmers and pastoralists, live in poverty and over 40 per cent – around 16 million people - lack sufficient food”.

These are some of the facts and figures you will find in many government and non-governmental organizations reports. But how well are they addressed?

The right to adequate food is a human right just like any other human right. These words exist in our own Constitution (paraphrased) but the guarantee they represent has not yet made a real difference in the lives of millions of hungry and oppressed people in Kenya.

So why do we need the human right to food perspective?

Speaking at a Human Right to Food Workshop organized by Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Nairobi office on 3rd and 4th March 2015, Dr. Christine Chemnitz, Head of the Department of International Agriculture Policy at Heinrich Boell Stiftung said “Food Security is a precondition for the full enjoyment of the right to food. However, the concept of food security itself is not a legal concept per se and does not impose obligations on stakeholders nor does it provide entitlements to them. The right to food places legal obligations on States to overcome hunger and malnutrition and realize food security for all”. The workshop had brought together experts from civil society, government representatives, Farmers and producers associations, science and international organizations to debate and strategize about ways to put the human right to food as reference in all agriculture decision making.

While speaking in the same forum, renowned Economist and policy analyst Dr. David Ndii said “The poorest 10 percent consume on average 918 calories per day, which is slightly over half of daily requirement. The wealthiest ten percent consume on average 3,330 calories, which is twice the minimum daily requirement and three and a half times the consumption of the poorest lot” “This data  suggests that the problem is not one of food availability/production but rather of distribution. There is a quarter of the population that even if they would spend all of their income on food only they would still not be able to buy enough calories to feed themselves he added.

With most of Kenyan hungry people being subsistence or semi-subsistence farmers and depended on unreliable government fertilizer subsidies and inputs, they end up being trapped in a vicious cycle of hunger, disease and poverty. They often have adequate land but lack the energy to till it, and between food and medical expenses, no money for expensive inputs.

On fertilizer usage, Dr Chemnitz said that although fertilizer use was comparatively low in Africa – there are more efficient and sustainable way of increasing food production and fighting hunger. Some African countries spend more than half their agricultural budget on fertilizer subsidies that not only deplete soil fertility but tend to benefit large-scale farmers. Dr Chemnitz cautioned that a proposal to start a continent-wide fund to finance fertilizer production, distribution and procurement is a step in the wrong direction similar to raising output by intensifying agricultural production and using more genetically modified organisms, pesticides and mineral fertilizers.

How has Ghana been able to feed its people?

In the period between 1990 to 2014, Ghana has been able to reduce the number of under-nourished population from 7 million to 1 million, the number of people consuming less than the nutritionally required level declined from 13 million in 1992 (80 per cent of the population) to 1 million in 2013 (less than 10 per cent), poverty (measured as less than $1 a day) fell from 52 per cent in 1992 to 40 per cent in 1999 and to 28 per cent in 2005 – probably the best record in poverty reduction in Africa in the last 20 years. Food supply per capita has increased from around 1,600 kcal a day to above 2,600 a day today, a level which makes the country largely self-sufficient in staples. According to Dr. Samuel Darkwah from Ghana, now a Lecturer at Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic, these Ghana successes can be attributed to among others, three key developments; increased market access for farmers to sell their produce, economic reform process which restored incentives to farm production and improvement in road networks to farming areas.

But which solutions are being communicated to Kenyan public to address hunger…?

Speaking in the same forum on the right to food Dr. Peter Mokaya, representing Organic Consumers Alliance, wondered why the Kenya government on advice from corporate sponsored scientists continues to provide questionable solutions like genetically modified organism as the answer to food security. He further challenged the researchers calling for uplifting of the ban that has been in place since 2012 to show why they think Kenya is hungry for lack of food and not lack of access to food. “We should be looking for homegrown solutions, local inputs and environmentally sustainable approaches which are more acceptable and affordable way of feeding and nourishing the hungry as GMOs are expensive, corporate owned and patented external inputs that are not affordable nor socially and environmentally viable for small scale farmers who are often the victims of poverty and hunger”, he added

Large irrigation investments like Galana-Kulalu one million acres project in Tana Delta have been proposed to solve food scarcity in the country. It is noteworthy to mention investment alone cannot solve food and nutrition insecurity and poverty, but it can contribute to building stronger more resilient communities, and providing a foundation for other complementary interventions especially if it is with small scale farmers. According to Dr. John Mutunga, who has preliminary findings of a study evaluating the effectiveness of this project, there are major concerns that may lead to its failure if not addressed. Top on the list is community engagement and them not seeing how they will benefit. In addition Dr Mutunga cautions: The effects of the project on commodity markets  like the maize production in the rift valley should be more seriously addressed by the Government  to avoid a situation where the state resources would be used to “dig one hole to fill another” or to create a problem by solving another,


To use Ghana’s example there are small concerted political steps that can secure a country like Kenya from hunger – chronic and reoccurring crises. Since these ideas exist and are not difficult or expensive to implement, it raises a number of questions. Why do we tolerate so much hunger in our midst? Why do we rely on donors whenever there is a drought, and leave the charity organization to feed Kenyans, while we applaud overpriced mega projects? What do hungry children need more to learn better, food or laptops?

The Kenyan government needs to demonstrate that it is truly committed to uphold the right to food as any other human right and citizens need to demand this right. The media will also have to up their game in monitoring of food security, have deeper interrogation of food security issues and solutions proposed at both County and National Government level and help put our leaders to task.