One of the most devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya has been the significant increase in food insecurity. Food insecurity in Kenya was already a notable problem prior to the pandemic. In February 2020, 1.3 million people were classified as in crisis, emergency or catastrophe, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). A year later, in the midst of the pandemic, that number rose by 15% to an estimated 1.4 million people. Furthermore, 542,000 children aged between six to 59 months are acutely malnourished to the extent that they need treatment.
With the number of people experiencing food insecurity in Kenya continuing to increase, it is more imperative than ever that solutions are implemented. Fortunately, major nonprofit organizations and agencies have enacted policies to significantly reduce food insecurity in Kenya. Here are three innovations that are having a positive impact on the country.
UNICEF Cash Transfers
In coordination with the governments of Finland, Italy, Sweden and the U.K., UNICEF has instituted a cash transfer program for 12,500 families across Kenya. The program grants these families 2,000 shillings bimonthly. This is on top of the 2,000 shillings they receive every month from the national safety net program. The program identified recipient families as the most vulnerable based on existing beneficiary lists for COVID-19 stimulus recovery. The lump-sum transfers have been pivotal in improving food security and child malnourishment. For many families impacted by the pandemic, food security would not be possible without this direct support.
PlantVillage is a project consisting of a website, mobile app and on-the-ground team helping African farmers diagnose crop diseases, monitor pests and crowdsource answers to crop questions. The project has been instrumental in improving food security in Kenya. It helped manage Kenya’s worst locust swarm in 75 years, which exacerbated the nation’s food insecurity problem that was originally ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic. The main goal of the project is to help farmers by providing them with affordable technology and agricultural knowledge. Additionally, the project encourages citizen reporting of the locust situation and food insecurity in general.
The widespread impact of PlantVillage has been immense. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the project protected the food security of 36.6 million people. The project also helped avoid a $1.56 billion loss in cereal and milk production. Melodine Jeptoo, a field coordinator in Kenya for PlantVillage, stated that the organization’s efforts “saved Kenya in terms of food security.”
Another solution that is instrumental in improving food insecurity in Kenya is the innovative agricultural technology initiatives from major organizations and small startups. The two most significant organizations involved are the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) and the World Bank.
CSTD has coordinated with the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the CropWatch Program to create an online workshop for Kenyans. The workshop helps farmers understand and utilize an improved crop monitoring system with better agricultural productivity. Meanwhile, the World Bank is in ongoing partnerships with 15 AgTech startups to utilize digital technologies to improve the delivery of inputs, soil testing and crop insurance to enable farmers to overcome restrictions related to COVID-19. In addition, farmers will have better targeted and more effective service delivery, particularly within remote areas.
During the same period of time, two notable startup companies have also been pivotal in mitigating food insecurity in Kenya. The first is Taimba, which is an online platform that has connected rural small-scale farmers to urban retailers. This enables farmers to access markets more easily in the midst of constraints related to COVID-19. The other startup is Solar Freeze, which provides smallholder farmers solar-powered cold storage to store temperature-sensitive fresh agricultural produce in a simpler manner.
Proposed Recommendations for Further Action
The IPC, in cooperation with the European Commission, has proposed numerous recommendations for what could be done to improve food insecurity in Kenya in the long run. In response to acute food insecurity, the IPC has recommended the following:
- Utilize farm inputs and pest and disease control to ensure long-term post-harvest management.
- Ensure the extension and maintenance of water structures and systems and promote further rain harvesting.
- Improve infrastructure in existing schools and expand school meals programs.
By taking these actions, Kenya can hopefully reduce its high levels of food insecurity. Moving forward, it is essential that humanitarian organizations continue to make this issue a priority, coming up with new innovations that have the potential to improve the lives of millions.
– Gabriel Sylvan