Kenya @60:What About Food Sovereignty?

Photo Credit: Photo Credit @ Victor Ndula

Kenyan Presidents flagging-off relief food

“He who Controls your food controls you”-Thomas Sankara- African Revolutionary President

"Every person has the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quantity”-Kenyan Constitution

Every 12th December is a public holiday in Kenya. This is Jamhuri Day when Kenya gained independence from the British, it signifies when Kenya became a sovereign state. The ideal sovereignty would also encompass food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is about power, the ability of people to control what they eat, and the right to culturally appropriate food that is sustainable.

At independence, the challenges the Kenyan political leaders vowed to address were the triple challenges of Poverty, Ignorance, and diseases.[1] Today 60 years after independence, the country still grapples with these three challenges. To compound the situation, hunger is still something many Kenyans grapple with daily.

At least 15.7 million Kenyans suffer from chronic hunger, Kenya is among the hungriest countries in the world noted  -Steven Shingles[2], being placed at No 86 out of 126 according to the Global Hunger Index (GNI). The other grim statistic is 13.8 million who are undernourished[3]. These food challenges come in the wake of the climate crisis, the aftermath of COVID-19, and flooding caused by elnino. Furthermore, over a quarter of children under five, translating to 2 million children have stunted growth, 11 percent of children are underweight and 4 % suffer from wasting. Arid and semi-arid areas suffer the bulk of these challenges because of harsh terrains, and climate change coupled with conflicts.

Kenya is classified as an agricultural country. Agriculture contributes to 33% of Kenya’s GDP[4] and is a major source of employment . 70%of Kenyans live in rural areas with most engaged in farming. Kenya has a conducive environment for food production, but systemic and structural challenges inhibit the realisation of the right to food. Food is political, politics is who gets what and how, and the authoritative allocation of resources and values, food is also about decisions and voice. Marginalised communities tend to suffer more when it comes to matters of food. There are parts of the country that are often on the news because of hunger[5].

The current food insecurity situation in the country is partly due to the adoption of colonial policies that are not working and another is the non-implementation of existing policies as well as structural problems. The over focus on cash crops contributes to food insecurity. When you grow for external markets and you produce what you do not consume, it means you depend on the market for your food. Smallholder farmers not only feed the country, they feed the world, but their contribution is hardly recognised. In Kenya for example, food producers ( be it pastoralists, farmers, or fisherfolk) complain of lack of finance, lack of technical know-how, lack of storage facilities, and impassable roads.

In an ideal way, African countries should boast of food sovereignty but cannot due to external influences, dominant narrative that African agriculture is archaic and over dependence on imports Food sovereignty is about prioritising local and national economies and markets, it is about empowering peasants, it is focusing on distribution and consumption while a the same time taking care of the environment within which this food is produced. Furthermore, academia also contributes to this dilemma because of the promotion of conventional agriculture, characterised by the use of chemicals and production for the market.

Year after year, Kenyans have to donate for fellow hunger-stricken citizens[6], with government officials flagging off relief food.[7]  The other culprit in Kenya’s food security dilemma is the post-extension approaches used and the promotion of Green Revolution[8] ideas as appropriate in tackling hunger. Unfortunately, the push for the overuse of chemical fertilisers is depleting soil nutrients. A chat with farmers on productivity over the years confirmed that the yields rose within the first few years, after which the farm produce dwindle. The allure of Green Revolution chains farmers to synthetic fertilisers , this is despite alarms being raised on dangers of Highly Hazardous Pesticides(HHPs) as evidenced by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Report -Toxic Business where in Kenya HHPs are used in food such as maize, tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat, evidenced by Heinrich Boll Stiftung’s publication Highly Hazardous Pesticides.[9]

There is also an entrenched negative attitude towards traditional farming methods, this is despite these methods having sustained ecosystems throughout the years. A good example is saving indigenous seeds. The narrative is that traditional methods of producing food are backward. Legislations also contribute to food insecurity. For example, many legislations have punitive clauses which in essence do not give farmers a conducive environment to produce food such as the Irish Potato Regulations and Plant and Seed Varieties Act as elaborated by  food sovereignty champion Claire Nasike. [10]How can a policy maker come up with a Bill that in essence criminalises the very act of food production, in a country classified as agricultural? This is quite baffling.

Matters of food safety are also a major concern in Kenya. The media has been rife with stories of unsafe food and food manufacturers using unscrupulous methods to enhance the shelf life of their food. Take for example the case of using toxic chemicals by butchers[11] or buying meat laced with chemicals in supermarkets.[12]

What happens to the food that is rejected at the airport due to high residue content, where does the food go? It gets back to the local markets and is consumed by unsuspecting consumers. This means there is poor monitoring from the farm to the fork. Additionally, such lapses speak volumes about the enforcement of food safety standards. This is despite a constitutional provision under Article 43( c) of the Kenyan Constitution 2010 which stipulates that “Every person has the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quantity.”[13]

Marketing also contributes to influencing what consumers buy. Particularly for the case of children who end up getting fed with high sugar content food or with low nutritional value. Who monitors what children eat?.Marketing creates cravings that make people consume nutritionally wrong food. Take for example food like a lunch comprising of chips, chicken, and a soda or a farmer who sells eggs in the market and comes back home with a bottle of soda for the children. Which is more nutritious, an egg or a fizzy drink? Obesity is on the rise in Kenya, for example, 13.4% of men and 3.6 % of adult men in Kenya live with obesity.[14]

Workable solutions to the food crisis challenge in Kenya would be a thing of the past if radical changes are made. As proposed by Article 43 survey on State of Food Sovereignty and Awareness in Kenya, land reforms to ensure adequate access to land for smallholder farmers ,land redistribution , secure land rights and addressing idle arable land would  contribute toward shifting the country from the hunger map, additionally the government should invest in climate resilient agriculture while investing in smallholder farmers. Agricultural extension services ought to be an integral part of support to farmers and not a service left to be run by agrochemical marketers who live the farmer with the hard choice of using synthetic chemicals .Sustainable farming practices such as agroecology should be promoted and supported , research paid for by the state should be prioritised. Civil Society Organisations also have a role to advocate policy change , particularly policies with punitive measures targeting food producers, farmers organising should be strengthened in addition to creating a conducive environment for farmers to participate. Consumer awareness on healthy and sustainable diets  can also enable create demand for healthy products .This will contribute to ready market for food producers and improve their livelihoods. Addressing food waste through investing in circular economy is also a timely solution.

60 years down the line, no Kenyan should go to bed hungry! Neither should a Kenyan child suffer from malnutrition or stunting.


Cover Photo Credit @Victor Ndula


[2] ibid

[3] ibid




[7] (1) FCPA Billow Kerrow on X: "Daily Nation cartoon: Our Presidents flagging off relief food to impoverished Northern Kenya...from Jomo Kenyatta to William Ruto. Doing the same things for 60 years & expecting different results!" / X (








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