Hamisi Williams is the Food and Agriculture Organization assistant representative – programmes. He spoke to Irene Mugo on climate-smart techniques farmers should use and why adopting nutrition-sensitive agriculture is way to go.
Several countries in the Horn of Africa are being ravaged by drought. In Kenya, over four million people are facing hunger and the situation is not improving soon as rains fail. Is climate change the biggest threat to food and nutrition security?
Yes, climate change is currently the biggest threat to food and nutrition security, especially in Africa. Since 2017, the region has consistently experienced various climate change-related phenomena ranging from floods, desert locust invasion, prolonged dry spells and emergence of new crop and livestock pests and diseases. The result has been food and nutrition insecurity as well localised resource-based conflicts worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine conflict. The challenge with climate change mitigation is that affected communities are not aware about it. Therefore, some have clung onto old planting calendar and habits leading to increased production costs and losses. It is for this reason that we are promoting climate-smart agriculture to build resilience of farmers.
What is the status of malnutrition in Kenya?
The main thing that fans malnutrition is food insecurity, especially in arid and semi-arid areas where households directly depend on livestock and rain-fed agriculture for their dietary needs. With less availability of food, there is poor dietary intake. Kenya is currently facing a triple burden of malnutrition; these are over-nutrition, under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, three in every 10 children are stunted while the 2015 Kenya Stepwise Survey for Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factors found out that three in every 10 adults in Kenya (28 per cent) are either overweight or obese.
FAO is currently advocating for nutrition-sensitive agriculture, what does this entail and how can farmers implement it?
For a long time, emphasis has been on food security, but nutrition is equally important because this brings in the quality aspect of the food that we consume.
Nutrition-sensitive agriculture seeks to ensure the production of a variety of affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate and safe food in adequate quantity and quality to meet the dietary requirements of populations in a sustainable manner. Without nutrition-sensitive agriculture, we have no quality food and without quality food, we cannot achieve optimal nutrition. Farmers should ensure that their actions from production to point of sale or consumption preserve nutritive content and safety of food.
How do you rate Kenya's response to climate change?
Kenya has committed to managing the impacts of climate change through a set of policies, programmes and activities. This can be seen in the country’s recent participation in Glasgow and Stockholm 50+ where it reiterated its commitment to supporting sustainable agri-food systems in a changing climate context.
The country has also committed to reducing greenhouse emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Further, the government has set out seven priority climate-action areas with adaptation and mitigation activities. They include food and nutrition security; water and blue economy; disaster risk management; forestry, wildlife and tourism; health, sanitation and human settlements; manufacturing and energy and transport. Therefore, I would rate Kenya’s efforts as sufficient in terms of consistency in climate policies and commitments to the Paris Agreement. Moderate improvements can be made to achieve full implementation at the two levels of government.
What 'small' things can farmers do on their farms every day to boost food and nutrition security amid climate change?
They should practice climate-smart agriculture through adoption of farming techniques that leverage on the changing climatic patterns to produce optimally. Practicing of conservation agriculture comes to mind. There is no doubt that climate change is real and happening fast. The good news is that we could be the last generation that may have little time left to do something about it. The agreeable position is that let us do it now.