Right to Food: The untapped power of our voices

June 30, 2020

The talk

It is no longer a secret in Kenya that we are back to the heart of political discourse. From trending hashtags on social media to mainstream media news and panel discussions, fake and real alike, the last few weeks have seen politics compete with the COVID-19 pandemic for attention on different platforms. 

A little bird tells me this has also been the case in most of our households. 

I’m a firm believer in democracy and have great respect for discourses around leadership and governance. I am however disturbed that at this point in time, with the disruptions that have come alongside COVID-19, the priorities of Kenyans are emerging through the focus of their discussions. We have heard reports of the state of preparedness of our health system, and the effects of COVID-19 on our economy and social welfare. Food security has not been spared either. It is now common to hear Kenyans pushing the President to re-open the economy so that people can be able to put food on their tables. Such, in my view, are the issues that should stay top of the agenda in the current discourse. 

The right to food

The right to food is essentially the right of every individual to be able to feed themselves in dignity at all times. This right is reiterated in international human rights frameworks such as Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Closer home, Article 43(1)(c) of the 2010 Kenyan Constitution stipulates that “..every person has the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality”. Indeed, the government has in recent years instituted strategies such as Kenya Vision 2030, and the Big Four Agenda to improve food security and promote development.

Progress in implementing these policies has however been slow. We have recently heard reports in the media of Kenyans who as a result of the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, floods, and evictions, have inadequate or no food at all for themselves and their families. We have also seen how some have had to resort to various coping strategies including skipping meals and reducing food portions due to the prevailing food security circumstances. Heard of the mother who was cooking stones for her children? Well, this is not fiction, it happened in Kenya!

Dear Kenyans, food insecurity has not started with the outbreak of COVID-19. 

It is no longer news in this country that some regions have periodic seasons of hunger, floods and water shortages and that this predictable pattern has been with us for years. In Kenya, whenever food insecurity is mentioned, many people only think of those in arid and semi-arid regions that mostly make headlines. However, there is one vulnerable group that is often forgotten, that is the urban poor mostly living in slum areas. These Kenyans experience hunger almost all the time. This hunger is at the individual level where one has nothing to eat. It is experienced daily within these communities but hardly hits the headlines. This is the norm in many homes but goes against the spirit of the right to food as enshrined in our Constitution. According to a study by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), about 8 in every 10 people living in urban slums are food insecure and about half of the children living in these settings have chronic malnutrition. These are alarming statistics in a country that has provided for the right to food in its Constitution, and that is keen to join the rest of the world in ending hunger in all its forms by 2030 as per the Sustainable Development Goal #2 (SDG 2).

Towards realizing the right to food 

How far are we from enjoying the right to food? How close is Kenya to achieving the food security dream of Vision 2030 and SDG 2 at the end of this decade? What is the role of the government in all this? What is the role of the citizens? How do we move forward?

For people to enjoy their right to food, they need to be food-secure. This involves having food available, accessible, of good quality, and nutritious at all times. Food operates in a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder system. The food system has many players including but not limited to farmers, supply-chain players, processors and industries, government, private sector, and consumers.  Wondering how you come in? As a consumer, at the very least, you have got a very powerful tool – your voice. You have a responsibility to participate in the national discourse around food security and achieving the right to food with the same energy and zeal we participate in elective governance discourses.

Let’s talk!

At APHRC we are keen to contribute in this regard. The Right to Food Initiative under the stewardship of Dr. Elizabeth Kimani-Murage has a public engagement component that seeks to illuminate people’s realities with regard to food security and to increase the national dialogue around the realization of the right to food. I encourage every Kenyan to take their rightful place to fully participate in the discourse on food security of every individual and the nation. Everyone should contribute in whichever capacity towards realization of our right to food. The dialogue on food security and the right to food should be a daily discourse, competing fairly for attention with politics, after COVID-19 issues on national trend lists and mainstream media headlines.

This article was written by David Osogo, a researcher at the African Population and Health Research Center