Safeguarding food and livelihood systems in the wake of global environmental and climate crisis

Dorcas Munyua, Photo Joy Kivata

Food is essential for human growth and survival. Yet, our food system is currently faced with numerous threats raging from climate change impacts, degrading natural ecosystems, biodiversity loss and population pressure. This undermines our ability as humans to feed our current and threatens substance of future generations This is happening at a time when the world is experiencing numerous socio-economic challenges such as the war in Ukraine, increase in food prices and civil conflict that affect some countries especially in the Greater Horn of Africa.

According to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, an estimated 45 million children under five years of age suffer from wasting – a form of malnutrition that increases risk of death by up to 12 times and 149 million have stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of nutritious food in their diets.  IFRC estimates that 3.2million people in the Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) are severely food insecure due to the failed rain seasons which is predicted to get worse as drier than normal conditions have been forecasted for October- December 2022. Over 80% of Kenya is ASALs and majority of the economic sectors are climate sensitive. In August 2022, Kenya’s annual inflation hit 8.3% pushing the cost of food even higher. This means that the vulnerable rural communities continue to suffer. Women and children suffer the most as access to food is highly constrained due to the failed harvests livestock death and economic challenges. Harmful gender norms prevent women and children from realising their right to nutritious food. Women carry the main responsibility for food production and access, yet they are likely eat last, eat least and eat less adequate food than men. Our ability to address the food crisis will determine whether we can sustain human existence beyond the current generation. Young people have a big role to play and need to be empowered to take action before it’s too late.

What should we do? To counter these effects, we all need to work together to ensure a world free of hunger. There is a need to increase our focus on adaptation and resilience especially for smallholder farmers and the rural communities. There is need to move from reactive climate responses to more proactive long-term efforts that will build resilience of the communities’ livelihoods and a stable agriculture sector. Sustainable and climate smart agricultural practices that are pegged on agroecological principles which offer solutions to climate change impacts; can empower communities especially smallholder farmers, pastoralists and agropastoralists, address gender inequalities and boost ecosystem services. Tried and tested cost-effective practices such as agroforestry does not only offer a safe climate change mitigation strategy but also creates income and provides nutritious food for households whilst empowering small holder farmer families out of poverty.

It is also important for Kenya to faithfully implement the Maputo Declaration on agriculture  which calls for allocation of at least 10% of the national budget to the agriculture sector development. During the 2021 budgetary allocation, the government allocated only 3.2% of the total national budget to agriculture development which still falls way below the 10% commitment. A lot remains to be done to ensure that smallholder farmers and their livelihood systems are resilient to climate change impacts. Commitment on irrigation including small-scale irrigation, crop and livestock insurance, provision of subsidised agriculture inputs such as seeds must become a reality for smallholder farmers.

Disaster risk reduction and management is also an area of concern, recovery after a disaster such as the current drought that leave the landscapes bear and humans broken is a necessity to smallholder farmers and the rural communities. Interventions should work towards restoring human dignity and providing homegrown solutions to the disasters. Investments in developing people’s capacity to deal with disasters should also be prioritised whilst applying a gender lens. Consequently, we need to go beyond the environmental dimension of climate crisis to looking into socio-political aspects of climate change. Our leaders must understand the local challenges and be willing to escalate them to national, regional, and global levels- the voices of smallholder farmers and rural communities must be amplified. Internationally, adaptation financing as promised during COP 26 must be actualised to support the most vulnerable in their effort to adapt to effects of climate crisis. Locally, fairness must prevail in access to, sharing and utilisation of resources. The voices of women, children and youth must be heard, and our development work must be inclusive. During the upcoming COP27 in Egypt- “The African COP”, we would like our leaders to push for double funding for adaptation, resilience, and disaster risk reduction as we work towards realising sustainable development.

Written by Dr. Monica Nderitu and Celina Butali- Vi Agroforestry