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%.


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.



How to feed your child in the first year of life; for all mothers, especially first time mothers

I am a nutritionist in a children’s hospital. Hence, part of my job description entails giving sound advice on infant and young child feeding to mothers, especially first time mothers. While most mothers  know what to feed the child and what not to, for a few, this business is a groping in the dark-a trial here and there while hoping that everything works out fine. I have never really appreciated the sacrifices mothers make until I started interacting with them as a nutritionist. I have come across mothers whose children were born prematurely; some have cerebral palsy; others with very low birth weights; iron deficiency anaemia; chronic constipation and a myriad of other conditions. Yet in all these situations, the mothers’ love for their child was not quenched. On the contrary, it seemed to ignite that tender loving that only a mother can give. Many have taken time off their work to take care of their children. And in cases of say, cerebral palsy, others have quit their careers altogether. It is because of this that any help extended to mothers is very much welcome and might offer some consolation for their enduring sacrifices. This is my help to them.

Birth-6 months

Mother’s milk is best for the baby. It is essentially for this reason why as nutritionists we advocate for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years. Exclusive breastfeeding means giving only breast milk, and no other foods or fluids, not even water. (Medicines and vitamins not diluted with water may be given, if medically indicated.). Breast milk provides all the nutrients and fluid requirements that the child needs for the first six months. Furthermore, it offers protection against common childhood diseases particularly diarrhoea, chest and ear Infections. This is especially so when taken during the first hour of life. Breast milk is much superior to formula milk in many ways. To begin with, it does not require rigorous hygiene measurements as providing formula milk. Risk of infection with poor handling of feeding bottles is very high in formula milk provision. Secondly, it is more easily digested than formula milk. In addition, breastfed children have been found to have better life outcomes than non-breastfed children. This is because breast milk contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain fatty acid that is essential for infant brain and eye development.

Quite often, I have heard mothers complain they do not have enough milk. This is not the actual case. Milk flow is dependent on the baby suckling. The longer the child suckles, the more the milk will be produced and let down. If the baby suckles less, for example because other fluids or foods are given, the mother will produce less milk.

It is not advisable to introduce cow’s milk until the child is one year old. This is because cow’s milk has higher protein content and the child’s kidneys have not developed enough to deal with the excretion of waste that comes from protein digestion of cow’s milk. Furthermore, the child is prone to early offsets of allergic reactions and gastrointestinal blood loss.

The table below shows why breast milk is superior to formula milk and cow’s milk owing to its optimum balance of nutrients that the child requires during the first six months of life.

Nutrient Comparison of Breast Milk, Formula, and Cow’s Milk
Products per 100 ml Energy






Phosphorus (mg) Iron


Breast milk 70 1.0 32 14 0.3
Milk-based formula

(20 kcal/oz)

67 1.5 42-51 28-39 1.2
Soy-based formula

(20 kcal/oz)

67 1.8-2.1 60-71 42-51 1.2
Whole cow’s milk (homogenized) 64 4.9 120 95 Trace
Breast milk 70 1.0 32 14 0.3


6-12 months

At six months, breast milk alone cannot provide nutrients such as iron in the required amounts. Hence, complementary feeding becomes necessary. Hereby, an iron fortified cereal/porridge is introduced. This is done gradually say 2-3 tablespoons on the first day while still breastfeeding and ½ cup increasing to ¾ cup at say 6.5 months. If the child has not been gaining weight optimally, the porridge/cereal can be enriched with cooking oil. It is important to avoid mixed flours/composite flours. This is because different flours have different cooking temperatures. Hence, this might expose the child to gastrointestinal distress.

When introducing mashed foods or pureed foods, it is important to give a balanced diet. Each meal should contain carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins and minerals. The following pointers might be helpful.

  • Vegetables might be accepted more readily if introduced before fruits, since fruits taste sweeter.
  • Allow at least 3 days between introduction of each new food.
  • Begin with small amounts of foods, offering seconds as necessary.
  • Give the child water after every meal to avoid dehydration.

Plant proteins are usually introduced between 6-8 months and animal proteins at 8 months. Animal proteins are introduced later because some children are prone to allergies especially if there is a history of the same in the family. Hence, when introducing animal protein, it important to do so one at a time. Hence, if the child develops an allergy, the culprit food can be easily recalled and an alternative given. Common allergens are found in egg white, cow’s milk, citrus, wheat, chocolate, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and nut butters.

It is crucial to reduce or abstain altogether from blending food as the child approaches 8 months. This is because it will take longer for a child used to blended food to learn how to chew food.  Furthermore, it has been shown that children who learn how to chew food early on also learn how to speak early on. So if you want your child to say ‘Baba’ or ‘Mama’ earlier, desist blending his or her food after 8 months.

Now, there is more to be said about maternal nutrition, allergens, vitamin and mineral requirements etc. However, a brother also has to pay his bills. Hence, should you feel the need for more information, just book an appointment with a nutritionist at any of the Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital Clinic nearby you (Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital). I assure you, it will be worth your while.


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


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 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 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%)


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.

Neymar and Maize: The Peculiar Similarities


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.





India’s Food Security bill and what Kenya can learn from it

India is going through what many may call ”interesting times”. In December 2011, the ruling party, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) introduced the National Food Security Bill in parliament. It consolidated several food programs that had proved successful in the country. However, the part that drew public attention was the grain distribution program which is arguably the most ambitious food program to be undertaken singly by any government in the world. It seeks to provide food (5kg grain/person/month) at subsidised prices to 800 million people at a cost of $22 billion annually. The identification of these 800 million people will be done by government officials. In a country where a quarter of the world’s hungry live in and has the second highest percentage of malnourished children, one might be forgiven for thinking this bill was going to be welcomed with open arms. Its reception has been quite the opposite. The opposition has claimed that the ruling party has just repackaged existing food programs and hurriedly introduced it to parliament. Furthermore, they are irked by the fact that the Prime Minister chose to use an ordinance to ensure the bill passed through the lower house. ”Ordinances are to be employed only in cases of emergency. What was so urgent that the bill could not wait 30 days to be discussed?” the opposition protested. All in all, it is the view of the opposition that this bill is UPA’s re-election strategy, designed to hoodwink India’s majority, the rural poor into electing UPA back to government come 2014.

In spite of all the dust this bill has raised, there remains a few voices that have chose to rise above it and offer sober judgment of the bill.

Jean Drèze, the co-author with Amartya Sen, of “An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions.” acknowledges that the bill might do some good only if there is sufficient political backing for it. However, he asserts that the battle for the right to food in India is far from over. Arvind Virmani, a former chief economic advisor to the government believes the bill will have little or no effect on malnutrition, poverty and hunger. This is because the most important cause of malnutrition in India is its abysmal state of public health, sanitation and hygiene. Most Indians do not have access to proper lavatories. This fact was wittingly captured by Amartya Sen during an interview by the Guardian when he remarked that the Indian government is more concerned with putting a mobile phone in an Indian’s hand than providing the same individual with a lavatory. Moreover, public knowledge on nutrition is wanting with the majority not possessing basic knowledge on nutrition matters.

While the debate rages on and the bill has been pruned first by the National Advisory Council and later by the government, the eastern state of Chhattisgarh has adopted the bill in its original form and is doing a commendable job in its implementation. Unlike the national food distribution system which is riddled with corruption and inefficiency, the new distribution system in Chhattisgarh state is regular, efficient and has a markedly lower leakage as compared to the national which stands at about 40 %. Majority of the poor households in Chhattisgarh are entitled to 34 kg of rice every month. The success of the system at the ground goes to show the extent to which the National Food Security bill can significantly reduce malnutrition levels in the country if implemented well. Ironically, Chhattisgarh state is ruled by the main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata.

I have always believed that developing nations such as Kenya can borrow a few lessons from India. For instance, the new form of governance in Kenya offers citizens opportunities to come up with solutions to problems that have bedeviled them since time immemorial. This a radical shift from the recent past where waiting for the central government to take action was the only option (Naomba Serikali Syndrome-NSS). Turkana County seems to lead the way by ensuring that the concept of food and nutrition security has been institutionalized. The county government has created a department whose sole mandate is to ensure that the inhabitants of Turkana County are food and nutrition secure.

In addition to developments at the county level, it is prudent to note that politics will always be closely linked with development. Whichever election period it is, there is always that one promise or proposed law that draws public attention; free Primary Education, free laptops for standard one students (the lowest class in Primary schooling in Kenya), etc. However, there is usually that promise concerning food and nutrition security that is often overlooked. In its manifesto, the ruling alliance, Jubilee, promised to put one million acres under irrigation to counter food insecurity in the country. Although faulted to only consider the supply side of food insecurity, it was a breakthrough of sorts. Efforts are being made to deliver on this promise but more remains to be done. The civil society, Non-governmental Organizations, the opposition, the media and the public at large need to keep the incumbent government on its toes thus ensuring that such noble programs are not drowned in political shenanigans.

The bill has now been passed by the Upper house in India. It now awaits accent by President Pranab Mukherjee before it becomes law. The global development players are watching India closely. If India succeeds in its implementation, it goes without saying that the program will be replicated elsewhere as well.