The last few years have not been easy for Kenya. The nation is facing diverse conflicts: Climate Change, the biggest locust invasion in 70 years, and food and nutrition insecurity. In addition to that, in 2020, COVID-19 arrived. John Kariuki, coordinator of Slow Food activities in Kenya, tells us how the Slow Food network has tried to help people in need during this long period of time.
It has not been an easy time for Africa. And it’s been going on for quite some time. As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip in the continent, its impacts are being felt unevenly across different places and different groups of people. In fact, COVID-19 complicates a context characterized by chronic food insecurity, protracted conflict and displacement, and environmental factors such as flooding and desert locust swarms.
The 2020 United Nations report, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, (www.fao.org/publications/sofi/2020/en/) provides key figures on the number of people suffering from hunger, as well as the rate of child stunting and wasting, as well as adult and child obesity. Though there has been a significant change in estimated figures, the cases of chronic hunger have continued to rise slowly from 2014: more than 690 million people still go to bed hungry and about 3 billion people cannot afford healthy and sustainable diets.
In percentage terms, the most affected people live in Kenya and other sub-Saharan countries. So, the pandemic worsened the food and hunger crisis and devastated the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans. It also raised the alarm on the urgency of transforming the world’s food system.
The strict health measures imposed to control the pandemic, with lockdowns, job losses and reduced mobility of food products, led to a serious food crisis in Kenya – and in Africa in general – especially in urban areas. In countries like Uganda and Nigeria, prices of basic foodstuff escalated to record high as a result of speculation. This meant that the majority of those who live from hand to mouth, with unstable incomes, missed out even on the food that was available. Inability to meet daily dietary needs compromises people’s immune systems, weakening whole communities’ abilities to fight COVID-19.
In developed countries, e-commerce and large grocers have played a significant role in providing relief. However, the same cannot be said for Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The retail sector here is almost entirely “informal” and operated through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Moreover, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is mostly rural.
In this framework, me and my colleagues in the Slow Food Kenya headquarter continued to work remotely with our communities. However, at some point, we heard their voices and understood the suffering and challenges they were going through as the effects of health guidelines and government restrictions continued to bite.
Some of them were going to go to bed hungry while members of the Maasai community were forced to rely on milk for survival. We felt the need to respond and this is how we came up with the initiative, “Fostering resilience in times of emergency and beyond: an alternative distribution network to counter Covid-19 emergency in Kenya and a sustainable local food system for the future.” Realized thanks to the support of the Agroecology Fund, the project was implemented by Slow Food Kenya team, composed by me, Samson Kiiru, Elphas Masanga and Jane Mwangi.
The initiative supported sustainable food producers by strengthening the connection with “local markets” by piloting a delivery system that built a direct link between them and the communities that had limited access to fresh and healthy food.
An inventory of the offer from 50 Slow Food community ecological gardens, 20 school gardens and 180 individual small-scale farmers involved in the network was created and the availability of products during the emergency period verified and publicized. A pilot delivery system was organized to collect food from the producers and distribute it to the identified target by setting up and managing strategic food distribution points directly among the communities. Slow Food Kenya facilitated the logistics by setting and managing a distribution calendar and hiring of adequate vehicles for the distribution during the emergency. Local authorities and county governments were involved for institutional support in the development of the initiative (e.g. availability of venue for the distribution points) and to lobby for support in promotion of agroecology in the target counties.
The project also improved access to affordable and healthy food. An assessment of the vulnerable communities was conducted, for example families of students involved in the gardens project, food processing women groups, pastoralists and indigenous communities (living in arid and semi-arid areas).
The most vulnerable communities were included in the delivery system allowing them to access quality local food at subsidized rates and free in some extreme cases. In addition, the initiative promoted agroecological practices and urban gardening for food security and sovereignty, with 15 urban gardens having been established.
At the end of the initiative, we can say that 623 families from Nakuru, Narok and Baringo counties benefited from the initiative.
For all of them, but also for our team, it was a very important experience. Food and nutrition security remain one of the biggest challenges facing communities in both rural and urban areas. Localized food systems can play a significant role in addressing the challenges being faced by our communities during and post the emergency and alternative food distribution can play an important role in guaranteeing access and ensuring that food prices are fair to both producers and consumers.
It’s also very important to collaborate with authorities at local, regional and national level: it is vital in promoting local food systems and amplifying agroecology and urban, peri-urbans and kitchen gardens are key in guaranteeing food and nutritional security at household level.
There are a number of aspects to consider in order to activate initiatives such as ours. Moreover, although similar initiatives are fundamental, we should try to solve the problem of food insecurity upstream, and not only treat its consequences.
For example, promoting agroecology through establishment of agroecological gardens can go a long way in ensuring that the communities are food secure and as insurance against pandemic and future occurrences.
Indeed, market access remains one of the biggest challenges facing small-scale farmers in Africa: continued support to an alternative distribution system will ensure a win-win situation between farmers and consumers by eliminating the middlemen and thereby guaranteeing a fair price to both farmers and consumers. Slow Food Kenya will continue to work towards supporting this system in addition to connecting small-scale farmers to chefs from different food outlets through the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance. In addition, the Slow Food Earth Markets (Farmers Markets) remain fundamental in enhancing market access to the communities through creation of a direct link between food producers and consumers.
Slow Food Kenya should continue to sensitize communities on the need to embrace agroecology and support localized food systems for increased food and nutritional security during the emergency and beyond.
Slow Food Heroes is a project financed by European Cultural Foundation, with the contribution of CRC Foundation.