Several challenges have threatened food and nutrition security in Kenya. Food production is affected by changing rainfall patterns, the invasion of quelea birds, pest and diseases, among others. Kenya is among six East African countries worst affected by desert locust. At the same time, Kenya is currently dealing with a new threat of floods that has already claimed the lives of 194 people, displaced 100,000, strained critical infrastructure, caused massive environmental degradation and destroyed crops and livestock. The heavy rain is expected to continue in already hard-hit areas. Economic shock resulting from COVID-19 has further exacerbated the magnitude and severity of food insecurity and undernutrition. The target to achieve 100% food and nutrition security by 2022 under the Big Four Agenda is seriously challenged.
As COVID-19 cases reported in Kenya continue to increase, the Government has introduced measures to restrict movements, which have led to closure of markets and businesses, disruptions of supply chains as well as shortages of inputs and labour. This policy brief assesses the impact of COVID-19 on availability, access and affordability of nutritious and safe food, and reviews mitigation measures
Nutrition and food safety
COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the important role of nutrition in building the immune system against viruses, including this one. This is important because Kenya’s undernourishment rate is high: it increased from 28.2% in 2004–2006 to 29.4% in the total population in 2016–2018. The prevalence of anaemia was estimated at 27.2% in 2016, compared to 27.5% in 2012. At the same time, obesity among adult population (18 years and older) is increasing rapidly, from 4.8% in 2012 to 6.0% in 2016.6
With coronavirus restrictions, it is becoming hard for urban poor to ensure three meals a day, let alone diversified diet. Poor households who depend on daily income and spend up to 75% of their income on staple food alone are struggling to get nutritious foods. Slum residents are among the worst affected group as they have the worst health and nutritional status of any group in Kenya.
The problems of malnourishment, anaemia and other nutrition deficiency are likely to worsen during the pandemic period. The recent launching of a national kitchen garden campaign, targeting a million household gardens in rural and urban areas, by MoALF&C is a commendable initiative.
Responses to ensure food and nutrition security
The Government of Kenya has released Kshs 10 Billion (USD 100M) through the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for the regular cash transfer (elderly and the disabled) and the newly introduced ‘Inua Jamii’ programme targeted to poor households who either lost their jobs or incomes due to COVID-19 crises.7 At the same time, a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund (US$82 million) has been set up to support vulnerable communities with their immediate needs including food. Budget re-allocation of KES40b has increased the Emergency Fund.
To further cushion Kenyans, all employees earning a gross salary of Kshs 24,000 and below will be exempted from taxation indefinitely. Kenyans who are on a higher salary scale will pay a lower income tax of 25% down from 30%. Fiscal measures aimed at increasing disposable income and reducing prices of goods and services also include VAT reduction (from 16 to 14%), turn-over tax (3 to 1%), reduction of mobile money charges. The Central Bank of Kenya has lowered the Central Bank Rate to 7.25% and the Cash Reserve Ration to 4.25% to maintain price stability and encourage banks to continue lending.8
At the Sectoral level, MoALF&C has constituted a COVID-19 Food Security War Room that will address all emerging issues related to food and nutrition security. County governments have announced measures geared towards protecting local residents from economic impact of COVID-19.