Walking through some parts of rural Kenya where food is in abundance you make think this is a really good life. Food is in plenty. They don’t have to eat toxic food as is the case in urban areas. The farm produce is fresh every day. All these thoughts and more will cross your mind, but in some regions in rural Kenya, it is not always as perfect as it looks.
Climate change is already a threat to food security in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. Droughts, floods and changing weather patterns which are resulting in failed harvests are becoming the norm. Though smallholder or subsistence farmers are adapting to the effects of climate change through planting drought-resistant crops, diversifying crop rotations and improving soil quality they are now grappling with Covid-19 and its compounding effects.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains straining food and agricultural systems. It has also exposed the vulnerabilities and inequalities facing the global food system that is already struggling to provide access to food, healthy diets and adequate nutritional requirements. The containment measures which started in March and April of 2020 saw the closure of farmers’ markets in several counties in Kenya, empty supermarket shelves and rotting farm produce. The relationship people had with food changed. Both the farmer and the consumer had to adapt. Food was now considered to play a critical role in human health and social well-being.
For smallholder farmers in rural Kenya, many moved to grow food only to feed themselves since the prices they got for their produce had fallen. Unfortunately, while the prices for farm produce went down the prices for basic staple food such as rice and maize meal went up. Some farmers were forced to sell or lease their farmland or sell their livestock to cater for household expenses. The number of labour workers in farms also reduced due to social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus resulting in unemployment even in the rural areas.
In the digital era, especially with a pandemic that forced most people to stay at home, farmers also turned to mobile applications and virtual marketplace platforms to sell their produce. Applications such as Twiga Foods Ltd and Digifarm reported an increase in the number of users during the pandemic. Social media applications such as Facebook which has a marketplace tab also saw an increase in farm produce. The use of digital tools to market products is an innovative way to curb food waste and also improve the value of products for consumers.
Organic farming is also on the rise due to the pandemic as farmers sort out affordable ways to increase farm productivity. Using manure is a cheaper alternative to fertilisers so is diversifying crop rotations to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides.
As seen from the Covid-19 crisis, consumer behaviour plays a crucial role in the food and agriculture system and how resilient a nation can be as a result of current and future global pandemics. Food waste and diversity in sources of nutrition are limiting factors in developing nations. There is a need to prevent food loss and encourage indigenous crop cultivation respectively which are crucial to preventing hunger. Smallholder farmers should also be provided with financial or food aid and incentives during pandemics to cater for the losses that will occur.
The Agriculture Sector is the backbone of Kenya’s economy and the youth can be involved in sustainable agriculture to mitigate the effects of climate change, create employment, promote food security and sustain populations during global pandemics and secure the environment for current and future generations.