Food prices surge calls for agriculture transformation

The dramatic increase in food prices this year has been a significant step backward for food security in Kenya. It has also pushed an overwhelming number of Kenyans into financial distress at a time when many households are yet to fully recover from the adverse economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is the main catalyst for the surge in global food prices that is not only affecting Kenya, but virtually every country around the world. Ukraine and Russia account for around 30 percent of the world’s wheat and barley, 25 percent of its maize, and more than 50 percent of its sunflower, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

Because of the war and the resulting Western sanctions on Russia, the global supply of these critical commodities has been severely constrained, a situation that has been worsened by continued disruptions in global supply chains as a result of Covid-19. This has sent food prices around the world through the roof.

Overall, the Ukraine crisis risks pushing up to 1.7 billion people or one fifth of the world’s population into poverty and hunger on a scale not seen since the Second World War, according to a report on the impact of the war by the UN. It goes without saying that we must put up a spirited fight to ensure that no Kenyan is part of this grim statistic.

The war in Ukraine has revealed the soft underbelly of globalisation and demonstrated that every country needs to take final responsibility for its own food security to safeguard its citizens’ welfare when global markets fail. Kenya must take up this challenge wholeheartedly, cognisant of the fact that food security is a right guaranteed to all Kenyans under Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya.

In the short-term, measures such as lowering duties on imported food and farm inputs as well as introducing subsidies on basic staples like cooking oil and flour could provide relief for distressed households. However, what happens when state coffers run dry, or if the crisis in Ukraine worsens?

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