Food Security as a Driver for Sustainable Peace in Kenya
By Yiran Ning
“The food system is complex; it is not just about food production,” said Florence Odiwuor, a Kenyan Southern Voices for Peacebuilding Scholar, at a recent event on the role of food security systems in sustainable peacebuilding in Africa hosted by the Wilson Center’s Africa Program. As a lecturer at the School of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Studies at Rongo University, Odiwour observed that given the food system’s interconnectedness with issues like education, gender, finance, and labor, “disruptions or failures in the [food] system have caused a lot of conflict in [Kenya].”
Importance of Smallholder Farmers, Women, and Youth
Smallholder farmers, and especially women and youth, play an indispensable role in Kenya’s food security. They contribute 80 percent of all food produced in the country, and a majority of them are women. Despite occupying such a central role, Odiwuor explained that women face multiple added challenges to their productivity and quality of life. On top of bearing heavy workloads and reproductive responsibilities, lower standards of education for women prevent them from adopting new and existing technologies. She also highlighted that restrictions on land ownership by women also mean that they lack the collateral needed to secure credit from financial institutions.
Odiwour added that the fact that many Kenyan youths are left out of the agricultural system creates a security threat to the nation. Idle and frustrated youths who cannot earn a livelihood are easily recruited by extremists into terrorist groups. The result is that they often “go to the streets to kill and maim and loot,” she said.
Money and Land Security as Solutions
These interconnected issues of food insecurity demonstrate the need for more budgetary resources to be allocated to address them, said Odiwuor. While the Kenyan government has committed to allocate 10 percent of its public expenditures to the agriculture sector under the Malabo Declaration, it has allocated only 3.2 percent as of 2021, thus slowing down the implementation of strategies to tackle the problem.
Danielle Resnick, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Global Economy and Development Program, observed that these resources should shift towards investments in agricultural research and development rather than subsidies. “It’s hard to get governments to commit to this because…it’s considered a low visibility public good,” she explained.
However, such investments are necessary to ensure a more productive agricultural system in the longer term. Odiwuor added that developing climate-smart varieties of crops like sorghum, a domestically-grown grain and Africa’s second most important cereal, will also boost food security in the face of the climate crisis.
Land security was also highlighted by Resnick as a major challenge that needed to be addressed in order to build a secure food system. The mapping of different land tenure systems—public, private, and communal—need to be improved, said Resnick. While women are now allowed to own land under the new Kenyan constitution, Odiwuor pointed out that culture and tradition still prevent many women from owning land or the food produced on it. It is thus crucial to approach land tenure with a gender rights perspective, highlighted Michael Bittrick, the moderator of the discussion and a Senior Advisor in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Food Security.
A final solution that was raised by Odiwuor was to build food and agricultural “peace hubs”—facilities that are established in communities, allowing smallholder farmers to gain easier access to agricultural inputs and finance. By working on a local level, these “peace hubs” can be tailored to the unique conditions of food insecurity in the community.
Generating the Necessary Political Will
How might Kenya achieve more momentum in addressing food insecurity? Resnick said that shifting focus from top-level politicians who are subject to change via elections is one strategy. She said that “finding your champions” among mid-level bureaucrats who would remain in the longer term might be more effective.
Given the multifaceted nature of food insecurity, Resnick continued, a multi-ministerial approach is needed to ensure the necessary budgetary support and accountability. She suggested the formation of an “agricultural transformation office”—a high-level office situated in the office of the Presidency—that would have its own performance targets and allow the relevant ministries to share in the accountability for its food security programs.
“Food security systems [are] drivers for sustainable peace-building in Kenya,” said Odiwuor. She observed that much is already being done to address this “food security-peace nexus,” with policies like Kenya Vision 2030 and collaborations with development partners like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Yet Resnick added that future efforts to make greater progress would require paying closer attention to the “bottlenecks to implementation,” and focusing on areas with more incentives and accountability.
Sources: African Union Commission, CropLife International, and The Borgen Project.
Photo Credit: In the Moruese village in Kenya, farmers till the soil to plant a mixed crop of maize, sorghum, cowpeas and groundnuts. Courtesy of Flickr user USAID in Africa.
This post first appeared on New Security Beat