By: Chadwick Digo

The sessional lockdown issued by the CS. Health Hon. Mutahi Kagwe to the residents of Eastleigh, Nairobi and Old town, Mombasa is part of the well intended moves or endeavours by our government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic but this move continues to deepens already highlighted problems of food, nutrition and livelihood security confronting a large number of urban poor populations, in particular, rural migrants to this areas. While some measures had been announced are being implemented, such as provision of additional cash transfers to the vulnerable populations in the country, for the purchase of other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS), we need to understand the different dimensions of food security in a holistic manner in order to address this problem in its totality.

The first is the availability of food in the market, and this is seen as a function of production. Fortunately, thanks to the Government earlier in recognising food transportation to all parts of the country as an essential service. This was a great move and accomplishment to a “right to food” commitment. Yet we cannot take farmers’ contributions in terms of sustaining production for granted. While some special exemptions have been given to the agricultural sector, farmers are confronted at the moment with labour shortages, many of the inputs, including seeds, are expensive or unavailable, marketing arrangements including supply chains are not fully functional, pricing is not remunerative, and public procurement is also not adequate. There is no room for complacency, as in the absence of demand, the lack of storage or value addition facilities, especially for perishable commodities, we do not yet know exactly what the impact of the current pandemic will be on the food availability in the future.

The second dimension is the access to food, which is a function of purchasing power, as unless you are a farmer and grow your own food, others have to buy it. Fortunately, the government, through the National COVID-19 management committee, has assured for food availability in every centre and town but in my thoughts they should extend food access to all individuals during this crisis, especially to the lockdown areas. This should be further strengthened and the food basket widened by including millets, pulses and oil. Steps should also be taken to avoid hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients in the diet. In light of the closure of schools and sessional lockdown of Old town centres, and the consequent disruptions in the provision of midday meals or other nutritional inputs, it is important to pay attention to the life cycle approach advocated by us  nutritionist, particularly the first thousand days in a child’s life, when the cognitive abilities of the child are shaped. We may otherwise see negative effects on nutritional security in the medium to longer term.

Food security and access to  nutritious, good quality food is also contingent on job security. Today, a lot of people employed both on farms and in the non-farm sector are without jobs. If job security is threatened, then so is food and nutrition security. We have to ensure people do not lose their jobs, and one way of doing this will be to ensure value addition to primary products. This would of course mean some attention to and investment in new technologies that can contribute to biomass utilisation. The Amul model provides a good example from the dairy sector of improved incomes to milk producers through value addition. Similar attention needs to be given to the horticulture sector on a priority basis. Women farmers are at the forefront of horticulture and special attention needs to be given to both their technological and economic empowerment during this crisis

By peter

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