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Drivers of urban food system transformation: Unpacking a social change process in Nairobi

Providing space for affected residents to identify their most pressing needs and to be fully involved in designing and implementing solutions for improving their situation

by Atula Owade | 2022-10-31

Drivers of urban food system transformation: Unpacking a social change process in Nairobi

A 2020 Integrated Food Security Classification Analysis conducted by the Kenyan Government and diverse partners identified the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi as having the highest number (215,943) of acutely food insecure people in the county. This number represents 40% of all Mukuru residents, with the remaining population also highly vulnerable to food insecurity and associated health challenges linked to inadequate access to water and sanitation infrastructure and other basic social services.

The high prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in Mukuru reveals how structural injustices and social inequalities permeate into, multiply, and persist in urban food systems. In order to explore the enabling conditions for building more inclusive and resilient urban food systems, TMG partnered with Muungano Alliance to conduct a scoping study between October 2021 and March 2022. Muungano Alliance is a social movement that works to improve the lives of residents of informal urban settlements by advocating for improvements in the overall governance environment. One component of our joint scoping activities was an evaluation of the Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) planning process and its contribution to improved food security and the progressive realization of the right to food for all.

Origins of the Mukuru SPA process

Conducted between 2017 and 2020, the Mukuru SPA planning process was an action research activity co-steered by Muungano Alliance and a broad consortium of more than 40 entities, including the County Government of Nairobi, civil society organizations, and academic institutions. The participatory process sought to provide space for affected residents to identify their most pressing needs and to be fully involved in designing and implementing solutions for improving their situation.

A summary of the Mukuru SPA Planning consortia and process (Muungano Alliance, 2020)

The SPA process was conducted in line with the Kenyan Physical Planning Act (2012), which mandates local governments to identify and upgrade areas with unique development challenges and opportunities. Seven planning consortia were established, mirroring relevant departments within the Nairobi County Government. Dozens of community consultative forums were held in each of the zoned areas within the settlement’s seven villages, providing data on community needs and priorities.

Through open discussions, the planning process acknowledged that developmental challenges, including lack of water, limited health services, and hunger, manifest differently based on individual household conditions. The findings and resolutions culminated in the formulation of an integrated development plan that was adopted by the County Government in March 2020. Six months later, the National Treasury committed KES 15 billion (around US$120million) for implementation of the integrated development plan.

Building blocks for rights-based urban transformation

Although the Mukuru SPA Process was not explicitly focused on the food system, its implementation is a major step in strengthening access to food for vulnerable households in the planning zone.

One of the most important achievements of the SPA process was the formal recognition of the Mukuru settlement as a protected zone. The aim was to ensure that residents would no longer be subjected violent evictions such as those that led to the displacement of more than 75,000 residents between November 2021 and January 2022. Securing their residency rights also helped ensure that communities within the SPA would not suffer additional food insecurity due to the loss of their homes and livelihoods.

Another important outcome of the SPA planning process was the securing of additional investments in essential services. Starting from December 2021, significant interventions included the provision of piped water and sewerage systems to 850 households. With secure access to water, families were able to make cash savings of up to 900%, leaving them with more disposable income for purchasing food and other household needs. A 12-month monitoring activity by Muungano Alliance further revealed some associated health benefits due to the reduction of sanitation-related diseases within the densely populated settlement.

Finally, the implementation of the Mukuru SPA integrated development plan was the first of its kind in Kenya, setting a precedent for improving the living conditions of vulnerable communities in other contexts. The SPA Planning Process illustrated how multi-stakeholder engagement, championed by community movements like Muungano Alliance, can be linked successfully to government budgetary processes. The Mukuru SPA planning process therefore offers important lessons for designing inclusive urban planning processes and holding duty bearers accountable for safeguarding access to food, health, education, and other human rights.

For more information on the SPA process, please visit the Muungano Alliance Website

Edited by Wangu Mwangi

Cover image caption: A section of the Mukuru informal settlement (Courtesy: Muungano Alliance, 2019)

This article is part of a series by TMG’s Urban Food Futures Programme which aims to contribute transformative changes for more resilient and inclusive urban food systems in African cities. The set of articles comprise our findings from scoping research done in Ouagadougou, Nairobi, and Cape Town between October 2021 and March 2022.

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