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Kenya is facing an eminent food shortage at the time when there are drastic weather changes- or what we call now, climate change- which has affected food production, transportation and storage. The Kenya government is undertaking major policy changes at its various organs of operation including the key agriculture and livestock ministries and other sectors as per article 43C of the new constitution of Kenya.
Despite the fact that women are the majority of food producers, they are not adequately and logically involved in the formulation of food policies from the household units to the government level. In most cases, they are victims of people who implement policies that have been made with the least consultation. Women form about 52% of Kenya’s population. In 2007, their proportion in wage employment was about 35%, while the rest were in small scale subsistence production. Female headed households constitute 40% of Kenya’s households, of whom 53% are poor women in groups and individuals engage in a number of food production activities to sustain their families, yet they are not freely left to get access and control the means of production nor are they remunerated fairly for their produce.
Some of the constraints affecting women’s participation in food policies are:

  • Women have been a disadvantaged group in food policies. Agricultural planners were in the past not sufficiently sensitized on the importance of gender considerations in food production. Furthermore, women are not sufficiently represented at the policy making level.
  • Limited access to formal agricultural education and training.
  • Prevention of inheritance of property such as land.
  • Heavy burden due to reproduction roles.
  • Traditional value attitudes which place women as subordinates to men.
  • Difficulties to access credit to enhance their economic activities.

Our current food policies tend to focus more on the large scale farmer while ignoring the small scale farmer who produces a large percentage of food. This bias is pegged on the preference of commercial farming as opposed to subsistence farming.
Food policies are insufficiently initiated and implemented owing to lack of commitment of the officers concerned .To a logical extent, there are neither periodical monitoring nor effective evaluation to assess the changes which have occurred and share the information with the farmers.
Some of the areas of concern that may hinder agricultural production are:
Pests: Army worms have once invaded the farms and destroyed a lot of crops. The government intervened but their intervention was not adequate. Therefore, there is a need to address agricultural policies reflecting on disaster management.
Small scale farmers largely experience similar pest problems in their daily food production activities and to a large extent the pesticides produced are of ineffective quality or pests have become immune to the chemicals.

Fertilizers:  There is lack of professional application of chemicals and fertilizers. There used to be agricultural officers and extension officers who did soil sampling and determined the appropriate pH of the soil and gave proper recommendations on the suitable use of fertilizers and the chemicals, but these professionals are now non-existent especially in the rural areas. The cost of fertilizers and agrochemicals are usually high rendering majority of the farmers resorting to natural methods of farming. This results to low yields and poor qualities of produce.
Seedlings: Due to liberalization, there have been all sorts of seeds in the markets, others of very poor quality and which do not suit specific regions of the country. The traders con farmers by lowering the prices of these seeds, which farmers rush to buy only to realize that they are of poor quality at the flowering stage. Case in point, in Nyamira,Gucha, Narok, Kitale and Bungoma where farmers were supplied with genetically manipulated seeds. Food policies should therefore put controls of ensuring quality seeds and check on the prices for an ordinary farmer to afford.
Storage: There is a lack of appropriate storage structures that guard the produce against bad weather and destruction by rodents and pests. This renders a lot of the produce to waste.
Agricultural Research: Despite the fact that we have agricultural research institutions, their findings and recommendations are only good on paper and have not been given proper implementation to benefit the average farmer. Majority of the personnel in the research institutions are men and they tend to focus their attention to what was traditionally referred to as men crops leaving other crops like millet, sorghum and beans to women. There is a need to rationalize the procedures to ensure gender balance. Since we have enough qualified women as per article 27 (b) of the new constitution.
Population: In Kenya, population growth rate is higher than the food production. In some parts of the country, like Kisii and Bungoma population is as high as 517,000 people per kilometer. Food policies should address the disparities of population densities, to ensure maximum production to merge the growing populations.
Infrastructure: Potential food producing areas face the worst infrastructure. Roads are impassable throughout the year, while feeder roads are not maintained. The poor infrastructure renders the perishable produce spoilt while on transportation to the market.Food policies should therefore examine the infrastructure network of the country and make an appropriate intervention measure to avoid further waste of food produce.

Through NGO’s:

  • Promote approaches to political, economic, structural, social and cultural issues around food ,based on a shared commitment.
  • Confront unjust structural practices and attitudes related to food and other alternatives.
  • Raise awareness in churches, schools, communities and the public at large on issues pertaining to food and mobilize support for specific campaigns and train women on new technologies.

Juliet Makokha