The decade of rapid economic growth which resulted in Kenya’s recent acquisition of lower-middle-income status has not benefited all Kenyans equally. Over one third of the population still lives under the international poverty line and social, economic and gender disparities remain. However, inclusion of food and nutrition security in the government’s ‘big four’ priorities, constitutional changes that devolve administrative responsibilities to county governments, and the country’s openness to innovation offer opportunities for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 on Zero Hunger and improved nutrition.
Access to adequate quantities of nutritious food remains a challenge for many, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, which make up 80 percent of the country’s land area. Factors include rapid population growth – at a rate of 2.9 percent a year – climate change, stagnating agricultural production and inefficient food systems. While food and nutrition insecurity are deeper in rural areas, the greatest concentration of food insecure people is in the capital, Nairobi. Families headed by women are more likely to be food insecure than those headed by men.
Malnutrition levels remain unacceptably high, with 29 percent of children in rural areas and 20 percent of those living in cities being stunted. Other nutritional issues, including overweight and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, coexist with malnutrition, and some 1.5 million people living with HIV have their nutrition status undermined by their condition.
Agriculture remains the main economic driver but it is very vulnerable to climate shocks. Unpredictable rainfall and recurring droughts contribute to the disruption of crops – 95 percent of which are rain-fed – and the erosion of soils. Inefficiencies in food systems – the networks that are needed to produce and transform food, and ensure it reaches consumers – lead to high prices and insufficient market supplies, limiting the availability of, and access to, food.
Kenya hosts 500,000 refugees, mainly in camps in remote, food-insecure counties. Unable to work or move freely, refugees are highly dependent on international assistance.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has a long tradition of providing food assistance in Kenya. However, as the situation in the country is evolving, so is the role of the organization. While WFP’s work still entails a large relief component aimed at the refugee population, activities are increasingly focusing on the development and strengthening of government capacities – including at county level, where responsibility for food security, disaster risk management and emergency have been devolved – to respond to needs.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Kenya
Country capacity strengtheningWFP works with the Kenyan government to strengthen its ability to provide its own food security and nutrition assistance programmes, such as activities supporting poor smallholder farmers. As part of this work, WFP supports institutions such as the National Drought Management Authority, working on hazard analysis and early warning to help improve the country’s preparedness and response to emergencies.
Asset creation to improve livelihoodsWFP supports communities in building or repairing assets such as small dams, terraces, water pans, irrigation systems, fodder fields and tree farms. This promotes longer-term resilience by increasing agricultural productivity and allowing communities to grow more food, diversify incomes, keep livestock healthy and protect the environment. WFP’s asset creation activities are a key element of support for the Government’s Ending Drought Emergency Plan.
School mealsWFP has run a school meals programme since 1980, working with Kenya’s Ministry of Education. This provides nutritious meals to 1.5 million children in the most food-insecure districts. Since 2009, the government-led home grown school meals programme has bought food from local farmers, helping support educational achievement at the same time as stimulating the local economy.
Food and cash assistance for refugeesKenya hosts over 400,000 refugees, the majority living in camps in remote, food-insecure counties where they are unable to work. This makes them highly dependent on international assistance. WFP provides them with food rations, along with electronic cash transfers that enable them to purchase their own choice of food from local markets, boosting the local economy. Young children and pregnant or nursing women also receive specially fortified food.
NutritionUsing a specialized blend of fortified food infused with micronutrients, WFP treats acute malnutrition among children under 5 and pregnant and nursing women. WFP also runs programmes to prevent malnutrition, providing extra nutrients to young babies and their mothers. In some counties, primary school children receive micronutrient powders, and in one county WFP distributes fresh fruit and vegetables.
Improving access to marketsWFP supports Kenya’s smallholder farmers by helping them acquire the skills and tools they need to grow better-quality produce and more of it, enabling them to compete in formal agricultural markets and make use of group storage facilities. With 75 percent of Kenya’s population cultivating small plots of land, the training WFP provides means farmers are better equipped to expand their production and increase their incomes.