Agriculture Pivotal in Curbing Climate Change

climate change

French foreign minister and president-designate of COP21 Laurent Fabius (centre), raises hands with UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and French president François Hollande. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images (obtained from The Guardian)

After two weeks of intense negotiations between the 200 member countries at the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris, an agreement on the way forward in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was reached. This ‘Paris Agreement’ has been lauded as ‘historic’, ‘the world’s greatest diplomatic success’ among many other superlatives.

In essence, the agreement marks the beginning of completely doing away with fossil fuels, keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F), developed countries sending $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts beginning in 2020 with the aim of helping the recipient countries adapt to the effects of climate change, all member countries reporting transparently on their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them. In reaching this agreement, credit has to be given to the small island states which were pivotal in the formation of the “coalition of high ambition” that led to the final agreement.

However, in order to reach these goals, it is imperative to consider the contribution of Agriculture to global warming. While fossil fuels (and industrial processes) account for 65% of GHG emissions making it the largest contributor, agriculture accounts for 24% (including forestry and other land uses) when analysed by economic sector thus making it the 2nd largest contributing sector after electricity and heat production which accounts for 25%.

global_emissions_gas_2015global_emissions_sector_2015

Source: IPCC (2014);  based on global emissions from 2010. Details about the sources included in these estimates can be found in the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Of Agriculture’s contribution, livestock through the emission of methane and nitrous oxide accounts for 14.5 %. Of course the major livestock contributor is cattle, whether kept for dairy or meat, which accounts for 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions followed by followed by pig meat, (9 percent of emissions), buffalo milk and meat (8 percent), chicken meat and eggs (8 percent), and small ruminant milk and meat (6 percent). The remaining emissions are sourced to other poultry species and non-edible products.

What then does this mean for reduction of GHG emissions at the country level?

While for some countries fossil fuels accounts for a major proportion of GHG emissions, for others, it is agriculture that drives and is most burdened by GHG emissions.

For instance, in Ethiopia, livestock and crop cultivation are estimated to be responsible for more than half of total 39 emissions as of 2010. The share grows to around 85 percent of emissions when forestry is included. India produces the world’s second-largest volume of agricultural emissions, after China. Brazil comes third. Thus it is crucial for these countries to align their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to focus on agriculture. Some have done so, for example Brazil aims to restore 15 million hectares of degraded pasturelands and to enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock/forestry systems by 2030. It also commits to strengthening South-South cooperation in low-carbon, resilient agriculture and reforestation activities.

The linkages between Agriculture and Nutrition have been proven sufficiently; strong linkage exists between the two. As countries aim to give a positive report five years from now, it is prudent for the bearers of this noble task to keep in mind the relationship between the two.

 

NB: For more information Climate Change (and agriculture), follow the links below

Why cop21 is important to zero hunger

Climate-Smart Agriculture is key to ending hunger

Agriculture in the COP21 Agenda

Global Gas Greenhouse Emissions Data

Livestock’s contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

NB: As developing countries aim to generate much needed energy, it is crucial to focus more on renewable energy such as wind and solar as opposed to coal mining which my dear Kenya seems intent to jump into with little regard for its consequences.

 

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2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey; Inching closer towards meeting MDG 1

-000

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) of 2014 has finally been released. Considering that this was the first under the new constitution, its release was anticipated with much interest. It has not disappointed. Apart from interesting findings on fertility rates across the counties which the media presented with a tongue-in-cheek, the survey shows the gains made by directing resources towards ending hunger.

The national prevalence of stunting (too short for age showing chronic malnutrition) is 26%, wasting (too thin for height showing acute malnutrition) is 4 %, and underweight (too thin for age showing acute and chronic malnutrition) is 11%.

Stunting

Stunting is noted to be highest (36 %) in children aged 18-23 months and lowest (10%) in children aged less than 6 months. This is a clear indicator that there needs to be more nutrition education on complementary feeding and the 1000 days (conception to two years of age) window of opportunity  needs to be fully utilised to avert malnutrition.

Stunting is also noted to be higher among boys (30 %) than girls (22 percent) and higher among rural children (29 %) than urban children (20 %). While this difference between rural and urban children may be true nationally, it is not necessarily true from one county to another.

Consider Trans Nzoia County, Kenya’s maize basket. In a study I carried out therein among children under five years from resource poor households, I found a significantly higher proportion (P=0.047) of urban children were stunted (40%) compared to rural children (19%).The prevalence rate of stunting in Trans Nzoia County according to the KDHS 2014 is 29.2 %. This is believable considering that this figure comprises of all children (urban and rural) and does not take into account the resources owned by a household.

In the KDHS, education of the care givers was also taken into account. It was found that children of mothers with secondary or higher education are less likely to be stunted (17%) compared with children whose mothers did not complete primary school (34 %) or have no education (31%). This shows that efforts directed towards the improvement of girl-child education should be encouraged and not downplayed as is usually done by groups such as Maendeleo ya Wanaume (MAWE) and the numerous heavily paternalistic communities across Kenya.

At the county level, West Pokot and Kitui have the highest proportions (46 percent) of stunted children. Others reporting high proportions of stunting include Kilifi (39 percent), Mandera (36 percent), and Bomet (36 percent). Nyeri, Garissa, and Kiambu counties have the lowest proportion of stunted children, each less than 16 percent.

Wasting

Wasting is highest among children in the age groups 6-8 months and 9-11 months (each 7 percent). This shows there is a gap in the manner in which complementary feeds are introduced. Furthermore, children at this age are quite vulnerable to infections accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting, high fever and loss of appetite. This consequently leads to acute weight loss.

The survey further reveals that children whose mothers have no education have a higher chance of wasting (10 percent) compared with children of educated mothers. Wasting in children is inversely related to household wealth.

Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, and Samburu Counties exhibited the highest proportions of wasting (>11%) while Siaya and Kisumu exhibited the least (<1%)

 Underweight

Children aged 24-35 months were found to have the highest levels of underweight with boys showing higher levels (12 percent) than girls (10 percent), and rural children exhibiting higher percentage (13 percent) than urban children (7 percent). It is important remember that these are national figures but the nutrition status at the county level may be far much different. Once again consider Trans Nzoia County where I found urban preschoolers exhibited slightly higher rates (22%) as compared to their rural counterparts, (17%). This shows that perhaps in high potential agricultural areas, it is the urban poor who are more vulnerable to malnutrition than the rural poor. The survey reports underweight levels in Trans Nzoia being 15.3%.

The survey correctly noted that proportion underweight decreases as mother’s education level increases or household wealth quintile increases.

In Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, and Samburu, more than 25% of children are underweight while in Nyeri and Nairobi counties this figure stands at less than 4%.

All in all, the survey brings some good news; there is a marked reduction in malnutrition since 2008/9; Stunting has decreased from 35 percent to 26 percent, wasting from 7 percent to 4 percent, and underweight from 16 percent to 11 percent. Furthermore, the proportion of children younger than age 6 months who are exclusively breastfed has increased significantly from 32 percent in the 2008-09 KDHS to the current 61 percent

It is such evidence that gives us hope. Our efforts are not in vain. Perhaps we are closer towards meeting MDG 1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, than we think.

A Tale of Two Governors; Mwangi Wa Iria and Alfred Mutua

MutuaMwangi

It goes without saying that the promulgation of the new constitution in August, 2010 marked the beginning of a new era in Kenya . The impact of this constitution was to be felt in all sectors of the economy. This is especially so since many of the functions that were previously handled by the national government were to be devolved to the County government. Chief among these were agriculture, health and education. The fourth estate has so far done a wonderful job in highlighting the progress made my various county governments. Time and time again, two governors have caught the media’s eye. They have proven themselves developmental and unlike most governors in the country, they have given political shenanigans a wide berth and sought to deliver the pledges they made to their people. It is these two, Mwangi Wa Iria and Alfred Mutua that I shall attempt to profile especially in matters food and nutrition security.

Mwangi Wa Iria, the governor of Murang’a County rode into power on two pledges; to put money into people’s pockets and to better the grade of students in the County.

To meet these pledges, he sourced the expertise of Deloitte and Touch firm who drew a 1 year strategic plan. This plan was fed into the County’s 5-year strategic plan. Agriculture and Education were given highest priority.

In agriculture, the governor has invested Ksh 50 million in fertiliser and seed subsidy. This is in addition to the fertiliser subsidy offered by the national government. The county subsidy targets 6,500 farmers. It is also used in the acquisition of several drought resistant crops such as Soya, sweet potato and Katumani beans to be planted in the semi-arid areas of the county.

He has also invested Ksh 200 million in an irrigation scheme covering 1000 acres that is to benefit 10,000 farmers. This scheme will focus on growing of rice and horticultural crops. It is envisioned that the county shall be able to produce enough for its own consumption but more importantly for sale to other counties.

In April, this year, Mwangi Wa Iria invested Ksh 500 million in the purchase of 35 milk coolers for every ward. Youth and women were encouraged to form groups wherein they would be given a heifer with which to start a dairy herd. I suppose, as a former managing director of the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries, investment in the dairy sector was in the offing.

Perhaps the most innovative investment strategy that the governor has employed is the formation of Murang’a Investment Cooperative Sacco (MICS). The Sacco aims to raise funds from the county residents for investment in real estate, energy and agro-processing. It seems to have been borrowed from Rwanda’s Agaciro fund whose main function is to lessen the country’s dependence on foreign aid. To their credit, members of the county assembly seem to be the only ones in Kenya who have drawn lessons from those expensive learning trips to Rwanda.

In education, the governor has invested Ksh 70 million in a bursary for bright and needy students in the County. Furthermore, he has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenyatta University to advance agribusiness initiatives in the County.

On the other hand, Alfred Mutua seems to pick his development agenda from a handbook of trickledown economics.

He has made several investments in recreational infrastructure such as the Machakos People’s park and the Machakos stadium. These investments, combined with flamboyant public relations machinery, have seen Machakos be the darling of Nairobi’s middle class. The hosting of several music concerts and rugby tournaments in Machakos town is a testament to this fact.

In recent times, he has flaunted the Kitumani-Makutano ma Mwala road as the ‘fastest built highway in Kenya and possibly in Africa’. Built at a cost of Ksh 650 million instead of the proposed Ksh 1.6 billion, Alfred Mutua has publicised the infrastructure as an African lesson in austerity. However, doubts have been raised about the quality and durability of the road and his ‘Maendeleo Chap Chap’ philosophy. It is because of this that many political pundits question his long term commitment to the people of Machakos County. They view his handling of Machakos County as a convenient stepping stone to a higher political office. But I digress.

Other investments in the pipeline by my Mutua include digging of boreholes (800), dams and pans (820) and raised water tanks (896).

He has also set aside money (figures not provided) for provision of free tractors, subsidised fertilisers, free chicks, seeds and greenhouses for 20 women groups in each of the 40 wards in the county. However, the actualisation of these investments remains to be seen.

To his credit, education in primary schools in the County have received a boost due to a Ksh 250 million in the supplementary budget allocated for School Feeding Programs and other food relief programs in the county.

Perhaps the most significant investment undertaken by Alfred Mutua is the purchasing of 80 ambulances (70 vans and 10 motorcycles) and upgrading the 40 community health centres in each ward to community hospitals. Considering that 360 women per 100,000 live births died in Kenya in 2013 and 73 children out of 1000 births die before the age of five, any investment to reduce the maternal and infant mortality rate in Kenya is very much welcome. Indeed as the governor stated in his speech during the launch of the ambulances (in flamboyance of course), perhaps Machakos county (or the Government of Machakos as the Dr prefers) would see an end to the naming of children as ‘Nzia’ meaning one born by the roadside.

So there is the brief profile of the soft spoken Mwangi Wa Iria and the stylish Alfred Mutua (Dr I should add). Come 2017 the scorecard of governors will be in the offing. I bet that residents of Murang’a County will have more money in their pockets (Ksh 200/day up from the current Ksh 63/day) and her children would record higher grades. I also bet that the living standards in Machakos County will have improved immensely. However, much of this will be evident in Machakos town and other peri-urban areas rather than the rural areas. Thus, if given a choice, I would rather be a resident in Murang’a County.

Neymar and Maize: The Peculiar Similarities

Neymarstock-photo-young-ears-of-corn-against-the-sky-149104505

I truly empathise with Brazil and her fans all over the world. Although I am no doctor, it seems to me that a fractured vertebra is no small matter. So much so that Neymar would have to miss out on the rest of World Cup. Brazil Coach Luis Felipe Scolari and the Brazilian team laid a lot of hope on the young man.

It was obvious right from the start that the game revolved around Neymar’s performance. Balls were fed to him from both flanks of the field. It seemed all players were under strict instruction to look out for the boy whenever they obtained possession of the ball. The coach has tried to lay the blame of Neymar’s injury on the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who allowed several rugged challenges from both sides to go unpunished throughout the match between Brazil and Colombia. However, I think the referee was just trying to allow the game flow without many stoppages. Neymar’s injury should fall squarely on the Brazil Coach. He is the one who thrust the boy into the limelight, and allowed him to take centre stage; even when there was clear indication of his being increasingly fouled throughout the world Cup matches. The pressure to perform was clearly weighing heavy on Neymar. He is without a doubt the poster boy of the Brazil team. However, placing too much importance on one individual, no matter how good, is bound to have its consequences.

This phenomenon is not restricted to soccer talent management only. It is also true in matters food and nutrition security.

During my studies in Uganda, it was often quipped that the availability of a wide array of staples in Uganda was the key factor that prevented the occurrence of famine during Idi Amin’s presidency. Plantains, sweet potatoes, arrowroots, cassava, and maize are just but some of the many staples widely consumed by Ugandans. It is not uncommon for one to order a little bit of each, along with a desired stew such as groundnuts, beans and the like. It is true, without a single shadow of doubt, that Ugandans’ dietary diversity score is way up there. Cross over to Kenya, my beloved country, and the situation is the exact opposite. Our obsession with maize is unbridled.

In order to understand how maize came to take center stage in matters agriculture, a sneak peek into the past is helpful.

The maize crop was introduced to Kenya by the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th Century. However, it became an important commercial crop when adopted by the European settlers in the 18th century. The latter did away with the Portuguese variety that did well in the coastal areas and introduced varieties sought from South Africa which had higher yields.

Many European large scale farmers gravitated towards maize over cash crops like tea, coffee, sisal and pyrethrum. This was largely attributed to the lower initial financial costs required to engage in maize farming and the quicker returns. Moreover, maize did not require a high level of technical skills and management as did other crops.

The European famers were encouraged to grow maize by the then colonial government which offered them such incentives as special railway transport rebates and protection from vagaries of the world market. Furthermore, maize offered an easy means of feeding the African labour force employed in the vast farms. In the 1st and 2nd world war, the colonial government encouraged and supported the farmers to produce even more in the name of supporting British war efforts.

Such steps taken by the colonial government laid the foundation for a radical change in the tastes and preferences of Africans. Overtime, plantation workers and world war veterans preferred maize to traditional staples such as sorghum and millet. In Nyanza, stories were told of young men offering to work in European plantations not only earn money but also enjoy free rations of Ugali maize meal. And as they say, the rest is history.

Maize is now grown even in arid and semi-arid lands, areas which do not support the agronomical requirements of the crop. Agricultural research institutes are burning the midnight oil to develop drought resistant maize varieties. Although, these efforts are laudable it makes more sense to promote the adoption of crops such as sorghum and millet which have significantly lower water requirements than maize.

In peculiar similarity to the popular Neymar, the popular maize crop is beginning to give in. Farmers in the South Rift are beginning to shy away from the crop after incurring heavy losses attributed to necrosis disease. Yields have dwindled over the years due to declining soil fertility while human population has increased and consequently the per capita consumption of maize. Hence, farmers in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu County, the major maize production areas, are also beginning to look to other high value crops owing to declining profits in maize production. Due to climate change, rain fed maize yields are expected to fall drastically. Consequently, it is predicted that come 2050, world prices for maize would increase by 52-55%.

In order to avert food insecurity in the long term, I suggest a three-pronged solution. There should be a national nutrition education programme. This campaign should be sustained over a considerable period of time say five years. During this period, behaviour change regarding food choice especially of staples ought to be monitored and evaluated at previously agreed intervals. Perhaps, consumer research firms devoted to political polls that more often than not are of little public benefit can be put to good use. Secondly, protectionism around the maize crop should be completely removed. In its stead, incentives should be given to farmers to grow other staples such as millet, potatoes, sorghum and the like. Thirdly, research institutes should channel their time and energies to developing varieties of the aforementioned crops that are high yielding, disease and pest-resistant.

Contrary to taking the suggested measures, it will only be a matter of time before the maize crop completely gives in. Then, we will be left wondering why we did not heed the warnings the crop tried to give us that it was under too much pressure to perform.

NB: Historical information on maize largely obtained from Professor Mark Ollunga Odhiambo’s inaugural lecture: ‘The Kenyan Maize Sub-Sector Performance and Its Implications for Food Security Policy Dialogue.

 

 

 

 

When men eat grass

A while ago a pastor in South Africa caused a stir when he coerced his congregants to eat grass in the name of God. I found it particularly hard to be sympathetic to the faithful probably because I thought they should know better. However, when news of Syrians trapped in Damascus, with no food to eat or water to drink, resorted to gnawing grass, my heart ached. This was a cruel reminder as to why Amartya Sen regarded dignity as a pivotal component of hunger alleviation. It was also a reminder of the nexus between conflict and hunger. The jury is still out as to whether a cause-effect relationship exists between the two. Nonetheless, it does not require statistical rigour to note the diabolical vicious association between conflict and hunger.

In 1999, Africa was the continent in which major armed conflicts took place. It still is I presume. Most of these conflicts were protracted accompanied by complex humanitarian emergencies.

Continent Major Conflict Minor Conflict
Europe Russia(Chechnya)

Yugoslavia

Russia (Dagestan)
Middle East West Bank and Gaza

Turkey

 
Asia Burma

India(Kashmir)

India-Pakistan

Philippines(New people’s army)

Sri Lanka

India()

Nepal

Philippines (Mindanao)

Africa Algeria

Angola

Congo, republic of

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Uganda

Sudan

Burundi

Guinea-Bissau

Rwanda

Senegal

Sierra Leone

Eritrea-Ethiopia

Chad

Ethiopia (Ogaden; Oromiya; Somali )

South America Colombia

Peru

 

Source: Wallensteen & Sollenberg (2000)

Fifteen years later little has changed. The Central African Republic has recently been in the spotlight because of religious militias taking on each other. Some of the stories that emanated from C.A.R shocked even the stoniest amongst us. A few countries away, South Sudan was at it again. Therein, the conflict took an ethnic turn into what a leading media house in Kenya referred to as a silent massacre. Currently, close to 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance as markets have failed and the supply channels used to deliver food to the villages have been disrupted. The UN agency, WFP, has resorted to airdrops to deliver food. The conflicts are also felt in North-East Nigeria where Boko-Haram has been engaging the government in Guerrilla warfare. The most vulnerable group are school going children. The last time I checked 190 school girls had been abducted by the extremists.

I can go on and on but somewhere in Syria, men are eating grass because a regime which many perceive has overstayed its welcome, feels it has the right to determine who eats and who does not-literally. Now, I can furnish you with figures that show discrepancy between food production during times of peace and times of war; I can tell you that prior to 1994, a drastic fall in global prices of coffee reduced the purchasing power of rural Rwandese and consequently their living conditions, they, living in quiet desperation, found it easy to turn against each other when appealed to do so; I can remind you that it was the failure of Emperor Haile Selassie to respond to food shortages in Ethiopia that led to his overthrow. However, I feel we should end on a moral note.

In hunger and conflict, what once was abominable becomes the norm. Eyebrows are no longer raised when a woman and a man wielding a gun go behind a bush and later, the woman is spotted with a bag of flour. Jaws no longer drop when a man rips off flesh from a fresh human corpse using his teeth. Mothers do not utter a sound when their children are recruited into the army. Girls no longer have the strength to resist the soldiers’ forceful advances. These and other unutterable horrors of war are not new to us. Every day, we are fed with news of such from across the world. Some are so near us geographically, yet, far, emotionally. We have become so accustomed to the sounds of drones, blasts, screams, corpses on our TV screens that we forget that they too are human. We have become deaf to the tolling of the bell. We have forgotten that the death of another diminishes us. We have forgotten that it is a thin line between war and peace and while few strive to see that this line is not crossed, the indifference of most will inevitably lead to its crossing time and time again.

 

My Apathy towards Galana/Kulalu Irrigation Project

Uhuru_Farming_400239306

President Kenyatta during launch of the irrigation project

Source: http://jamhurimagazine.com

I shudder every time I hear food insecurity and Galana/Kulalu mentioned in the same breath. For those not in the know, Galana/Kulalu is the new irrigation project in Kenya. During the campaigning period, Jubilee coalition promised to put one million acres under irrigation. This was seen as the silver bullet needed to stem increasing levels of food insecurity in the country. This, among other significant promises such as one laptop for every standard one pupil, saw the Jubilee coalition win the elections albeit with accusations of malpractice by the main opposition, CORD coalition. Now the Jubilee government has hit the ground running. And Galana/Kulalu irrigation scheme is one of its pet projects. A few details of the project are in order.

Firstly, how are the million acres divided between the various crops of food security concern?

  • 500,000 acres to grow maize and other rotational crops i.e. beans, sorghum…
  • 200,000 acres, sugarcane
  • 150,000 acres, beef and game animals and finishing
  • 50,000 acres, Horticulture production including potatoes, groundnuts, etc
  • 50,000 acres, dairy animals and value added products
  • 50,000 acres, orchards, mangoes, guavas, etc

 

Well, it is no surprise that maize takes the lion share. According to the latest government reports on the country’s food security, we have a shortfall of 10 million bags of maize (Food security in Kenya is equated to maize availability). This deficit should begin to bite in May, 2014. Considering that the first crop in Galana/Kulalu was expected to be planted in March, this shortfall cannot be met by the project. Hence, come May the government would be forced to remove duty on maize thus allowing for its cheap importation. Enter maize cartels, connected individuals and the politician out to make a kill and you have all the hallmarks of a scandal in the making. It is this that makes a good majority of the citizenry doubt the government’s figures on actual number of bags shortfall. Furthermore, if I have my intelligence correct, the Galana/Kulalu project would be leased out to potential individuals/organisations to grow the crops on behalf of the government. Going by how recent contracts have been handled, I am not quite sure that the irrigation project would not attract its fair share of political shenanigans. However, there are much more fundamental issues that make me sceptical of the project altogether.

To begin with, Galana/Kulalu straddles the Tana River and Kilifi Counties of the Coastal region of Kenya. The area is predominantly semi-arid except for the eastern edge which receives annual mean rainfall of 625mm. The rest of the area receives approximately 250mm of rainfall annually. Furthermore, the area sits at an average altitude of 270m above sea level. Soils in the area are mostly sandy loams although some parts have red clay and black cotton soils. Considering that half of project area would be allocated to maize production, it is prudent to consider the basic requirements for growing of maize. Maize requires copious amounts of water (500-800mm). This would not be a problem since water can easily be sourced from Galana/Sabaki river or alternatively from River Tana. Despite maize doing well in various soils, it does not do so much well in sandy soils and it is prone to water logging. Hence, great care would be required during irrigation especially during flowering and yield formation periods. Water logging during flowering can reduce grain yields by 50 percent or more. All in all, let us suppose, for argument’s sake that yields in Galana/Kulalu would be slightly lower than Trans Nzoia’s (20-30 bags/ acre) which is Kenya’s maize basket. Never mind that this has greatly reduced in recent times due to increasing soil acidity. Suppose that an optimistic view of Galana/Kulalu is taken, say 15-20 bags/acre. This would give a yield of 7.5-10 million bags tops. Suppose that 5% of this yield is lost post-harvest (substantial maize losses in semi-arid environments range from 10-20%, 5-10% and 0-5% due to pest, poor storage and disease respectively) we are looking at 7.125-9.5 million bags. This leaves a minimum shortfall of 500,000 bags only. Not bad, one might say. Nonetheless, the “ifs” are too big to ignore.

Secondly, it is crucial to consider the complexity and various facets of food security as captured in the 2009 World Summit on Food Security: “ Food Security exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active  and healthy life”. Four pillars of food security have been identified. These are Food Availability, Food Access, Food Stability and Food Utilisation.

four_pillars_of_food_security

Source: http://www.newsustainabilityinc.com/2014/01/14/can-rural-agriculture-solve-global-food-insecurity/

These pillars, along with dimensions such as vulnerability and shocks are adequately used as indicators of food security as shown below

Food Security Indicators

Click for a larger view

Source: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ESS_FSN_Indicator_1

Judging from the definition and suite of indicators of food security, it is quite evident that much emphasis is being put on availability at the expense of other pillars such as physical access and utilisation. All you have to consider is the state of the roads and networks, access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities, as well as availability of thriving markets and you will find that areas lacking in such are notorious for cases of acute food insecurity even when other parts of the country enjoy bountiful harvests.

The above scenario is corroborated by UNICEF’s conceptual framework on the causes of malnutrition.

 

malnutrition causes

Source: http://www.foodsecurity.gov.kh/conceptual-framework-malnutrition

It is appreciated that inadequate dietary intake and disease are the immediate causes of malnutrition. However, the basic causes of malnutrition are political, economic, social and cultural structures. Hence, any endeavour to prevent malnutrition by addressing its immediate or underlying causes without giving adequate attention to its basic causes is treating the symptom rather than the cause of the disease. The areas notorious for food insecurity are the very same that have been politically, economically and socially marginalised since colonial times. They have been least represented in national governance, denied equal opportunities of pursuing education, least empowered to grow economically and continually denied their political freedom to air their grievances. This chronic marginalisation has been made evident through glaring inequalities, cries for secession and of course, chronic food insecurity. Unless they are resolved, efforts such as Galana/Kulalu irrigation project, no matter how noble the intentions behind them, will be gone with the wind.

 

 

 

2013: Year in Review

It is that time of the year when we must take stock of the year passed and measure our hopes for the New Year. 2013 was without a doubt a year of pivotal events, especially in my homeland Kenya. We had a peaceful general election in March- the first under the new constitution. We celebrated 50 years of independence hence joining a throng of other African nations that have achieved the same in the recent past. However, in spite of these positive developments, Kenya and other African nations are still bedevilled by hunger, corruption, disease, ill-governance, conflict and poverty.  This is reflected in the global reports of 2013. I will elaborate on some that focus on hunger.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013

The GHI measures and tracks hunger globally and by region and country. It is computed by the international Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and employs three main indicators i.e. undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. In 2013, the worst performing regions were South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.  South Asia had the highest GHI score and this was attributed to social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women.

The Sahel region was noted to be prone to hunger due to a number of factors. These included sporadic rainfall, locust infestation, crop shortages, and high and volatile food prices. These affected the food and nutrition security of the region negatively. Furthermore, conflict in countries such as Mali and Northern Nigeria exacerbated the situation. However, despite this grim picture, Ghana stood tall as it was among the top ten best performers in terms of improving her GHI score since 1990. It goes without saying that Ghana is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Studies have proved there is a very strong positive association between democracy and food and nutrition security. Perhaps this is why Ghana attracts an even rosier review in The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013. However, I am anticipating. We will come to that later.

Some countries exhibited significant increases in their GHI scores, the worst performers, all of them in Africa, are Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea. The report attributes increased hunger in Burundi and Comoros since 1990 to prolonged conflict and political instability.

The following are excerpts of what the report says of some African countries:

  • The three countries with extremely alarming 2013 GHI scores—Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea— are in Africa south of the Sahara.
  • Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea currently have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 60 percent of the population
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population of more than 60 million, still appears as a grey area on the map because reliable data on undernourishment are lacking and the level of hunger cannot be assessed- High-quality data for the Democratic Republic of Congo, as for other likely hunger hot spots such as (Afghanistan) and Somalia, are badly needed.
  • Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from approximately 18 to about 19 %.
  • The HIV and AIDS epidemic, along with high income inequality, has severely undermined food security in Swaziland despite growth in national income. Because of drought, more than one-quarter of the population depended on emergency food aid in 2006–2007, and the country’s GDP per capita declined between 2007 and 2010. High unemployment, overgrazing, soil depletion, and the risk of future droughts and floods pose persistent challenges.

 

The State of Food Insecurity in the World; the multiple dimensions of food security, 2013

This annual report communicates progress made towards achieving the 2001 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Hunger i.e. halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population and the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit(WFS) goal on hunger i.e. halve the number of hungry people. It should be noted that both goals have 1990 as the starting year and 2015 as the target year. However, the WFS goal is harder to achieve because of the high rates of population growth in many hunger-affected countries. The report estimated that to meet the WFS target, the number of hungry people in developing regions would have to be reduced to 498 million by 2015, a goal that is out of reach at the global level.

In 2011-2013, 842 million people i.e. 12 % of the total world’s population were unable to meet their dietary requirements. This means that one in eight people were likely to have suffered from chronic hunger.

Africa remained the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (on in four people) within which the sub-Saharan region had the highest (24.8%) prevalence of undernourishment.  The report concludes that Africa is not on track to achieve the MDG hunger target. Nonetheless, Ghana goes against the grain. It had met its 2015 MDG hunger target by 2000–02. By 2011-2013, less than 5 % of its population were undernourished. It was also well on track to meet its MDG poverty target before 2015. This impressive record in a region not known to post such is attributed to a robust economic growth (its GDP grew by an average of 4.5% a year since 1983 and by an impressive 14 % in 2011), market reforms and favourable terms of trade and investment climate. However, all this would not be possible without the peace and political stability that Ghana enjoys. In fact, I dare say, this is the impetus that fuelled Ghana to meeting the MDG hunger target by 2000-02.

In stark contrast to Ghana, Uganda records a dismal performance on its progress to meet the MDG hunger target. Firstly, the prevalence of undernourishment has been increasing since the early 2000. This is attributed to discordance between food production and population growth. Uganda has an annual population growth of 3.2%, one of the highest in the world. This rate combined with a declining food production per capita, unequal distribution and access to food have rendered one third of Uganda’s population to be chronically undernourished.

Conclusion

African countries performance in regard to ending hunger leaves a lot to be desired. While the continent boasts of having the largest tracts of unused arable land, it also holds the unenviable title of the continent with the highest number of hungry people. Much has been said of this discrepancy and quite a number of recommendations have been suggested. Despite of all these efforts, the changes over the years do not merit the investment made into bringing about those changes. As we measure the hopes that we have for the New Year, it is my sincere hope that we see much more political commitments made towards ending hunger globally and especially in Africa. It is also my sincere desire that we witness significant changes in the indicators of hunger in the foreseeable future. Perhaps approaching the year 2015, measuring of progress made towards MDGs and post-2015 development agenda will fuel efforts towards eliminating hunger. Meanwhile, remarks made by José Graziano da Silva (FAO Director-General), Kanayo F. Nwanze( IFAD President) and Ertharin Cousin (WFP Executive Director) in the foreword to The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013 ring ever so true…

“Ultimately, political stability, effective governance and, most importantly, uninterrupted long- term commitments to mainstreaming food security and nutrition in policies and programmes are key to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition”

NB: A more concise review of 2013 can be found at http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/2013/12/happy-new-year-a-look-back-at-2013.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Hunger-undernutritionBlog+%28Hunger-Undernutrition+Blog%29

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