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Food systems governance in Kenya: leaving no one behind

Reflections from the National Agriculture Summit – July 2023

by Emmanuel Atamba, Jörg Schindler | 2023-07-21

Food systems governance in Kenya: leaving no one behind

“The Human Right to Food is a constitutional guarantee in Kenya but is yet to be fully enjoyed by everyone. So, the question of food systems transformation for us in Kenya becomes a very critical question. We have to look at the interactions among the players within our food systems and how they boost or inhibit true food system transformation. Under today's mantra "Leaving no one behind" we need to ask: Who are the key players within our food systems that shouldn’t be left behind? Do we have a system that is fair and just to all the key players within our food systems? These questions underline the importance of governance in food systems. The issue of power and the associated interests is a very key consideration. At the end of the day, we need to ensure that food systems governance guarantees that everyone can access nutritious and healthy food”, argued Dr. David Amudavi, Executive Director Biovision Africa Trust, in his keynote speech, opening the panel debate at the Agriculture National Summit (NAS) in July 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. The NAS was organized by Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET).

The summit came just a few weeks before the first “Stock tacking” moment (as follow-up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS)) slated to happen in Rome from 24th July 2023. In contrast to previous events, the NAS 2023, partly supported by German Development Cooperation, was different. The mantra of the summit and involvement of different actors including different government institutions, civil society, farmers and producer and private sector organizations created a fertile ground to boost the shift towards a more inclusive, systems-based conversation about food. This is one of the latest and most visible efforts to bring together all stakeholders for an honest conversation on the status and the required transformation towards a more economically efficient, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable food system.

“In Kenya the transformation of the food systems must be driven by the government. The Ministry of Agriculture has a key role to play, but it is important that the Ministry recognizes that there are a lot of other important actors”, said Dr. Mwendah M´Mailutha, CEO of Kenya National Farmers Federation, KENAFF. “I would argue that farmers are critical to the transformation of food systems. It is important that farmers are at the table. But it is also important to widen the space: to the civil society people representing the voice of people at the grassroots, to the private sector and to training and research institutions and universities. Each of these actors has a role to play. It is important that the Ministry recognizes and ensures that in the team that is going to drive the process all these actors are at the table and their responsibilities are clearly defined. Everybody who´s coming to the table must know: What am I supposed to give to this process? Here I see KENAFF´s role to ensure that our members understand what it means when it comes to food systems transformation and that we can speak with one voice.”

“Food systems transformation requires all of us, producers and consumers”, argued Ms Mary Karanu, Convener of the Right to Food Coalition. “They need to be at the table, and they need to be empowered. But we also need government and civil society. The importance of civil society is that we bring perspectives from the ground. We monitor the implementation of government programs and hold government accountable. Civil society actors are facilitators of inclusive and meaningful participation. We also promote civic education on rights and entitlements and advocate for systemic change and the realization of our rights. We have an important role to play.”

While the food systems conversation continues to take root in Kenya, the level of engagement between different stakeholders particularly the private sector and civil society is still low. However, respective discussion between Kenyan stakeholders starts taking place although not necessary in Kenya itself. During the 2023 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (the biggest global meeting of agricultural ministers), for example, the German Think Tank TMG Research together with GIZ, Welthungerhilfe and other partners realized a side event with Kenyan representatives to discuss the role of governance in food systems transformation. The side event was attended by ASNET, KENAFF and PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management), a network of NGOs working with small-scale farmers. One of the main conclusions of the event was the need to have all the different stakeholders on board to ensure sustainable, inclusive transformation of food systems in Kenya.

The ASNET summit is thus one important step towards more intentional engagements between different actors in Kenya, more so those who bear different mandates and offer different perspectives on the direction of food systems transformation. Forums like the NAS offer a great opportunity for actors to engage in the direction of food systems. With even stronger involvement and engagement of all relevant actors, the summit as well as other national and sub-national platforms offer opportunity for country level stock-taking, monitoring and sharing on the progress as well as strengthening accountability and governance mechanisms for all actors and processes.

The governmental structure, that coordinates the process of Food Systems Transformation in Kenya is the Agriculture Transformation Office (ATO), an organ originally created by the framers of the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy 2019 - 2029 (ASTGS) to ensure a successful delivery of the ASTGS. “The mandate of ATO is to coordinate any manner of activities to ensure successful delivery of the ASTGS”, explains Mr. Leonard Kubok, Coordinator of the ATO. “This includes, among others, sufficient sensitization of all key actors on the aspiration and the vision of the ASTGS. Key stakeholders either in the government, private sector or CSO must be properly sensitized.

The responsibility of the ATO is to ensure that all stakeholders are sufficiently informed about ASTGS, and its implementation. This includes understanding what the different roles are, what are the milestones, what are the timelines? And to ensure continuous engagement with all stakeholders.” In case the challenges and issues impacting on the implementation of the strategy require high level intervention, ATO takes them up to the top management of the Ministry. And if those issues are beyond the office of the Cabinet Secretary or the top management, “there are other channels to deliver them to the appropriate places that can address the bottlenecks.” Another aspect of the role of ATO is inter-ministerial and interdepartmental coordination and carrying out mutual accountability roles of the office.”

With the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021, where ATO was the coordinating office for the UNFSS, coordinating county, regional and national dialogues in Kenya, the thinking shifted towards food systems transformation. In April 2023, ATO was called to prepare the country voluntary report on the implementation of the national pathway and submitted to Rome on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary.

Leaving no one behind, the mantra of the NAS, implies ensuring that whatever decisions, investments and processes are inclusive and address the needs and interests of all stakeholders with an intentional focus on providing the necessary tools and conditions for the most vulnerable, marginalized groups to benefit from the outcomes. The question of how to exactly realize the spirit of leaving no one behind came up several times in the summit with no clear responses. Any possibility therefore of ensuring inclusive, fair and just transformation of food systems lies in the availability of a strong governance and accountability mechanism that ensures that beyond everything else, nobody is left behind.

A strong commitment to support the ATO and the food systems transformation in Kenya, sent from the NAS, is the first of ten Action Points for intervention in the next one year before the next NAS, slotted for 3rd- 4th July 2024:

Involve Academia and Research, Civil Society and Consumers in the Monthly Public-Private Roundtables with MoALD, the State Department of Fisheries and the Blue Economy, State Department Cooperatives. The dialogue platforms should take place once every month and should be Co-Chaired by the Private Sector and the Cabinet Secretary Appointee. Further to the Commitment by the CS to engage frequently with the Private Sector, the Summit further proposed a once every four months ASNET-Cabinet Secretary’s Roundtable.

If this commitment will be realized, ASNET has not only organized a high-level panel debate, but also initiated an important first step to support the transformation of food systems in Kenya.

The ingredients of sustainable, inclusive food systems governance

With the complex nature of food systems, competing interests and demands as well as numerous actors and processes, only good governance can bring forth the possibility to effectively steer the process for any positive change or transformation. In the process of optimizing governance, it is important to understand the important role everyone plays in steering the process. All stakeholders are endowed with resources; social, political as well as capital and fiscal that can have a significant impact in holding everyone accountable and ensuring sustainable, equitable transformation. At the side event organized by TMG in January 2023, participants agreed that governance does not necessarily mean government but rather a joint effort of all food system actors.

Based on the conversations at the NAS as well as further consultations, we identified four key missing links to effective FST governance in Kenya. They include:

Common vision: Effective and inclusive governance requires bringing different stakeholders together and therefore identifying a common vision. As the food systems transformation agenda is essentially a moving target, this vision is bound to change and therefore all stakeholders need to be able to make the necessary shift into the new direction. The common vision does not discredit the fact that different actors have – and will remain to have - different perspectives and interests, but rather strives to harmonize them and identify unifying objectives to be realized by all stakeholders. In the Kenyan context, some of the key transformation objectives agreed upon by all stakeholders include:

Achieving 100% food and nutrition security for all

Increasing farmer incomes and livelihoods

Building resilience against climate change

Ensuring food sovereignty – reducing dependence on imports

Ensuring food safety and increased nutritional quality of food

Leadership and coordination: Strong, visionary leadership is important in providing the necessary political, social as well as technical guidance towards sustainable food systems transformation. It is also important that the leadership structure in place can create an enabling environment for all stakeholders to not only contribute to the transformation process but to also to dialogue and exchange different approaches, ideas and perspectives.

Looking at the Kenyan context, leadership of the food systems transformation agenda no doubt needs to go beyond the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives. There is growing recognition of the multi-disciplinary nature of the current food systems issues and the needed shifts and transformation. Various ministries have been earmarked as key in the food systems conversation including the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Blue Economy. The current food system's leadership structure, however, does not fully reflect the need to engage beyond the MoALD.

The Agriculture Transformation Office (ATO) is seen as a viable and promising coordination mechanism for food systems transformation by many key actors. The ATO, which was established through the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) (2019-2029) was initially created to oversee implementation of the strategy (only) which nevertheless also requires intervention from different ministries and several stakeholder groups. With emerging new thinking around the agri-food sector and thanks to the shift towards a food systems approach, the ATO is now placed at a promising and potentially highly relevant position to steer coordination of food systems transformation processes and convene all relevant food systems actors.

Despite the existence of the ATO, actor coordination still remains one of the main barriers to realizing food systems transformation. Having been established to oversee the implementation of the ASTGS, the ATO’s main mandate is overseeing implementation and eventual delivery of the nine ASTGS flagship projects. Despite the ATO serving as the landing point for the Kenyan food systems transformation agenda, the ATO mechanism has so far not been fully adapted to the role of steering a holistic food systems transformation. Failure of the ATO to realign and effectively take on the steering of food systems dialogues and transformation efforts in the country has the possibility of not only slowing down the pace of what would be an efficient transformation process but also poses a serious gap in ensuring that the transformation process does not entrench further existing inequalities and lack of inclusivity which the food systems approach seeks to address.

Accountability and responsibility: Simply speaking, there is a growing feeling amongst stakeholders that there is too much talking and too little action and these sentiments were also strongly echoed during the NAS. “We need to embrace a culture of action-oriented thinking,” said the ATO coordinator Mr. Kubok. Accountability in this sense means that all stakeholders can be held accountable for their actions as well as their commitments and promises. An increasingly visible pattern in food systems dialogues and conversations involving multiple actors is the lack of clear roles and responsibilities. While the primary roles seem quite obvious, systemic and deep seated food systems issues often end up not being tackled due to a lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities amongst the different actors and groups.

Grounded in this lack of clear roles and responsibilities as well as the non-existence of accountability mechanisms, many workshops and conferences end with robust conversations about key food systems issues but without any clear actionable roadmap. In fact, there are so far no mechanisms to address systemic issues of critical urgency such as biodiversity and agroecosystems health restoration and conservation, consumer education, extension services, food systems knowledge and information management systems just to mention a few. These issues continue to come up in every dialogue, stakeholder engagement often without any clear tangible outcomes to address the same.

Another important area of consideration in all multi-stakeholder engagement is the clear separation of roles and responsibilities, especially between rights-holders and duty-bearers. While there are clear advantages to bringing together rights-holders and duty bearers, it is important to ensure that the roles and positions of the two groups of actors are not confused. The role of government as the ultimate custodian of power and regulatory authority as well its obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfilment of the Human Right to Adequate Food for all as per the ICESR must remain sacred and can by no means be diluted.

Inclusivity: Governance is inclusive when it effectively serves and engages all people; considering e.g., gender power dynamics and other aspects affecting how people access and utilize resources as well as engage in decision making. Inclusive governance is realized when institutions, policies, processes and services are accessible, accountable and responsive to all members of a particular society. Inclusive food systems governance in the Kenya context therefore implies providing equitable opportunities for engagement and addressing the needs of all stakeholders from the resource rich, visible, influential actors to the most resource poor, invisible, marginalized actors, communities.

Different actors also offer different perspectives and solutions towards addressing food systems transformation and all views and perspectives need to be taken into account. The private sector and civil society perspectives on different developments in the food systems for instance need to be taken into account when designing interventions on the same. While private actors drive the sector through innovations and the investments they make, civil society organizations have an important role as they delve deeper into the question of outcomes of these investments and activities. There are immense benefits in creating a governance structure that ensure these two groups of actors have equal opportunity to engage in determining the future of food systems rather than one that pities them against each other as is the situation in the Kenyan agri-food sector for now.

The ASNET Summit – We too want to make a difference

The NAS is one of the most noble initiatives from private sector actors to contribute to creating spaces of dialogue and engagement related to food system issues beyond business interests. In addition to the all-encompassing theme: “leaving no one behind,” the summit provided a platform for the private sector to make commitments and show intention to positively contribute towards the needed transformation. The presentation by the Cereal Millers Association was particularly a great example of how the private sector is aligning itself to act and be part of the solutions to a myriad of issues affecting food systems in Kenya as it centered around the message, “we too want to make a difference,” and clearly outlined how respective companies address key issues such as aflatoxin contamination. The millers first and foremost recognize their role in ensuring the consumers are only supplied with quality, safe products at all costs. They furthermore also appreciated their role in ensuring that the aflatoxin issue is addressed along the entire system from production to final distribution through partnership with other actors such as the Cereal Grower's Association (CGA) and county governments in providing the necessary insights and information. Finally, they highlighted that they link-up directly with producers to ensure uninterrupted flow of information on quality and safety requirements for better management of the aflatoxin risk. In the words of Ms Paloma Fernandes, the Cereal Millers Association CEO, the private sector has no choice but to ensure that the food that gets to the consumers is safe.

Another key message from the private sector was the call for self-regulation as this was proposed as a mechanism to ensure sustained action and good practices above laid regulatory frameworks for different food systems products and processes. The private sector, through its different associations such as the agro-dealers association, millers association, agrochemicals association etc. emphasized on the important role of self-regulation as a mechanism to strengthen accountability through peer-to-peer monitoring. The practicality of self-regulation is, however, a subject of further review as it may be subject to abuse. The proponents of self-regulation however view this as an additional safeguard to the existing formal government steered regulatory frameworks.

Reflections on the role of the private sector

Overall, the role of the private sector in food systems transformation cannot be over-emphasized. The private sector not only controls investments in the agriculture sector but also wields significant political influence both at national and subnational levels. This power comes with a huge responsibility. In a relatively free/open market like Kenya, the private sector has a higher calling to ensure that private investments and activities in the agriculture sector contribute to a more sustainable, equitable, just and fair food system and not otherwise.

Even though the private sector is profit driven, there is increasing recognition of the need for private sector actors to integrate aspects of environmental sustainability, social wellbeing in their businesses. In the NAS, three key facets of food systems transformation from a private sector perspective were identified: 1) increase productivity and economic efficiency, 2) maintain ecological integrity and 3) enhance social well-being. Achieving these requires that the private sector internalizes the impacts of its investments and activities. By internalizing respective externalities, the private sector is better placed to evaluate its activities and to identify and minimize any negative outcomes while enhancing positive outcomes.

Building towards inclusive food systems dialogues

Key recommendations going forward:

Strengthen the coordination of food systems actors and activities in Kenya at national and sub-national levels. This should be realized via bringing together all stakeholders (including representatives from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities affected by especially hunger and food insecurity). At the moment, the ATO is the most viable mechanism available to bring together all stakeholders in a coordinated and sustained multi-stakeholder approach for food systems transformation. Strengthening of the ATO also by allocating it not only to one ministry alone is one of the possible approaches to enhancing coordination of food systems transformation in Kenya.

Strengthen accountability mechanisms. It is important to clearly identify different roles and responsibilities of food systems actors in order to foster and speed up food system transformation. Mechanisms to hold the relevant actors accountable should be further strengthened. The role of government as a duty bearer in relation to the Right to Adequate Food as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution 2010, Article 43. 1 (c) should be clearly underlined to ensure that any further engagements on food systems transformation are underpinned by a strong foundation that fosters justice, equity and accountability.

Foster truly inclusive dialogues. There is need to effectively bring on board all actors that need to be involved in food systems transformation on eye level. The voices of consumers who struggle with high food prices, producers who face multiple challenges and market constraints with little financial reward and vulnerable groups are still not adequately included in Kenyan food systems dialogues. Thus, there is a need to reshape respective platforms and make them permeable for these actor groups in order to allow them to also meaningfully engage in shaping the future of food. It is not enough to set a table for dialogues, but to also carefully interrogate and assess obvious power imbalances that affect how different actors engage in these platforms. There is need to better coordinate representation of mainly producer, consumer as well as civil society organizations.

Emmanuel Atamba Oriedo is a food systems consultant – Based in Nairobi, Kenya

Jörg Schindler is Senior Research Associate at TMG Research gGmbH, a Berlin based Think Tank for Sustainability

Joint conclusions on governance of food systems transformation: The ASTGS abridged version: ICESR:

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