By Amos Wemanya
Kenyan food system has been suffering from the impacts of changing global climate. Studies indicate that the African continent will be the most affected by climate change since the majority of its population rely on land for their livelihoods.
The climate crisis is already having a significant impact on Kenya’s agricultural productivity. Floods, droughts, shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall and increased pests and diseases are having direct impacts on crops. In addition, extreme weather events are destroying infrastructures. This is making it difficult for farmers to access markets.
For a long time the Kenyan agricultural policy had focused on large scale production while ignoring the plight of small-holder farmers that is key in ensuring food security. However, recent budget planning and the Big 4 agenda indicate that the Kenyan government is waking up to the reality that food security is important in achieving national prosperity.
Previous policy engagements have focused on improving productivity without addressing the key issues of inequality, ecological challenges, small-holder farmers and gender rights.
Increasingly, focus on large scale agricultural practices has resulted in a limited interpretation of a sustainable food system. The recent improvement in investment in the agricultural sector is commendable but needs to address the key issues of small-holder farmers and gender inequality.
Agricultural and food system gender inequality is a key setback in fixing Kenya’s broken food system.
Notably, Kenyan women farmers remain at a high risk of food insecurity whenever a crisis like those one caused by changing climatic conditions occur. This is happening in a country where women account for the majority of the agricultural workforce.
Access to means of production is important. However, the majority of Kenyan women farmers do not have secure land rights.
In a society where ownership of land translates to social status, lack of secure land rights has left many women farmers to face discrimination. Limited negotiating powers in ensuring sustainable agricultural systems for women still a challenge.
Although there exist laws that allow for gender equality in access to land, women are faced with challenges of limited access to information, less resources and frustration from complex and costly land administration procedures.
Globally, women have stepped up and are leading the global climate movement. Conventionally, women have proven to be leading the way towards more equitable and sustainable solutions to climate change.
In spite of this global development, women in Kenya’s agricultural system do not hold decision-making places. Research indicates that women and men are experiencing climate change differently. Therefore, it is essential to explore the link between gender inequality and the climate crisis.
Women play essential roles in ensuring food security. They have always been innovators in the face of challenges. For instance, women have normally been in charge of storing food and seeds, adapting crops to the external conditions and passing on their knowledge from one generation to another.
Commonly, women have been in charge of choosing, improving and adapting the different varieties of crops. They play a key role as producers of food, managers of natural resources and main caregivers of their communities. Yet, it is surprising that the policies, social norms and investments still discriminate against the majority of the Kenyan women farmers.
Recognizing that achieving food security and fixing the already broken Kenya’s food system is a complex public policy challenge; taking into consideration the questions of women’s access to secure land rights, and participation in decision making will help shape measures needed to transform Kenya’s food system.
It is important that women especially in Kenya’s agricultural sector are heard and supported in moving towards a food secure society. Historically, women’s contribution in social, political and economic activities have transformed so much in Kenya and their enormous untapped power could be utilised in rebuilding sustainable food systems resilient to the challenges caused by the climate crisis.
There is a need for policies that protect them and investments that ensure access to information, and technology. Importantly, women have proved to be effective in rebuilding communities, Kenya’s women farmers need to be included in the conversations and decision-making about Kenya’s agricultural and food system transformation.
Amos Wemanya is the Greenpeace Africa Campaigner.