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Stepping Forward: Strengthening policy coherence to improve Kenya’s food systems

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Tue, 06/04/2024 – 13:14

All around the world, countries have recognised their food systems need to change, for the health of people and planet. From a national political perspective, this transformative journey hinges on robust government policy frameworks. Government can and must lead in changing the landscape to banish malnutrition and boost healthy diets. The Kenyan government’s ongoing review of the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy exemplifies its commitment to doing just that. 

Food and agriculture remain the bedrock of many livelihoods in the country, but environmental challenges like climate change cast long shadows. Persistence of multiple forms of malnutrition – linked to food affordability and accessibility – demand urgent solutions. At the heart of it all lies a fundamental right: for all Kenyans to have access to healthy and sustainable diets.

In revising its National Food and Nutrition Security Policy, Kenya has adopted a welcome multi-stakeholder approach. The first review meeting, held in November 2023, in which I participated as a representative of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), was remarkably inclusive. It involved key stakeholders from UN agencies, Academia, and other non-governmental organizations, as well as diverse government ministries – including the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This collaborative approach has fostered a rich exchange of ideas and recommendations aimed at revamping Kenya’s food systems. More recently in April, 2024, a Technical Working Group with diverse membership met to examine various sections of the policy and provide targeted inputs. The policy review process aims to achieve presidential assent in October 2024 and to conclude by November 2024.
In representing GAIN, I was very keen to both learn from and contribute to the discussions. I was struck by three key issues that stood out in the latest session:

1. Data-Driven Policy Development: One of the most significant insights from the review meetings is the crucial role that data plays in policy development. Reliable data forms the bedrock of informed decision-making and effective policy implementation. I was able to share the example of the recently-launched Kenya Food Systems Dashboard (KFSD) with the community, who welcomed it as a tool to leverage data for policy reforms. Developed by GAIN in collaboration with partners and now hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture on the Kilimostat platform, this dashboard features more than 70 indicators related to food systems. One of the challenges within the sector remains the lack of information about information systems in agriculture, food, and nutrition. The traditionally siloed approach to data gathering and sharing has proven ineffective in promoting sustainable food systems. The Technical Working Group agreed on the need for existing information systems in the agriculture sector to complement each other, to be updated regularly, and to be centralised to reduce redundancy. Also noted was a growing concern regarding data protection and accuracy. During the session in which I shared information about how to find, navigate, and use the KFSD, participants expressed worries about “fake” information elsewhere that could mislead analysts or policymakers. We collectively agreed that the new policy must address these concerns and explore how innovations like Artificial Intelligence can be best deployed. A data-driven approach ensures that policies are responsive to the evolving needs of the population and are grounded in solid evidence.

2. Aligning Policy with Pathways: The consensus affirmed that the revised policy should be aligned with Kenya’s existing food systems pathways. These four pathways [around a) young people’s and women’s access to productive resources; b) digital agricultural solutions; c) more diverse diets; and d) climate action], outlined in the 2024-2030 Kenya Food Systems and Land Use Action Plan, provide a roadmap for achieving a sustainable and equitable food system. Aligning policies with these pathways ensures a unified approach, maximizing the impact of the policy. GAIN has also seen the review of the FNS policy as a critical opportunity of the government to consider coming up with a comprehensive nutrient composition database for major food items and novel, nutrient dense underutilised crops for dietary diversification. There should be a consumer sensitisation to demand these nutrient-rich indigenous foods which are also known to be climate resilient.

3. A Seat at the Table for All: The review process was a testament to inclusivity. From farmers’ groups to government agencies to non-governmental organisations, diverse voices have a place in shaping a policy that works for everyone. However, one group deserves particular attention: youth. Kenya has a large youthful population, and they are disproportionately affected by malnutrition and food insecurity. Meaningfully engaging them in policy discussions is crucial, not only because they represent the future, but also because they can offer fresh perspectives and innovative solutions. Youth were not as present at the review meetings as many people felt they ought to have been. It is therefore important for the government going forward to provide platforms for young people to express their views and contribute to policy discussions. To effectively achieve the Food and Nutrition Security policy objectives and the Kenya food systems transformation pathways, it is essential to meaningfully involve the private sector. Leveraging private sector and digital innovations, as well as attracting investments from this group, can significantly enhance delivery and reduce food loss and waste. This necessitates establishing stronger public-private partnerships (PPP).

Throughout my involvement in the policy review process, two statements have resonated deeply with me. The first is, “…let us break down the silos…”. This emphasises the importance of continuous information sharing and close collaboration among government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academia, the private sector, and development partners. Establishing a mechanism for this collaboration is essential, but stakeholders must also remain generous with data, tools, and innovations to drive collective progress. The second statement is, “…everyone has a role to play…”. This underscores the spirit of inclusivity that the Ministry of Agriculture has fostered. Every stakeholder should identify their areas of contribution and actively participate. The ongoing review of Kenya’s National Food and Nutrition Security Policy represents a significant step toward transforming the country’s food systems to go beyond even zero hunger and achieve healthy diets for all.

By embracing data for informed decision-making, fostering inclusivity, and aligning policy with established pathways, Kenya is taking a clear step towards a future where affordable and nutritious diets for all are within reach. The evolution of its National Food and Nutrition Security policy is not an endpoint, but the beginning of a transformative journey. GAIN remains committed to supporting these efforts every step of the way.

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04.06.2024
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