The world’s population is increasing at the rate of about 100 million people each year. This is slightly above double the population of Kenya adding to the total world population each year. This increase has raised many concerns about the possibility of feeding all humanity in the near future. There is also now a big debate about the best direction our food and farming systems should take. 1 in every 7 people in the world is food insecure, the food insecurity situation is particularly worse in Africa (FAO, 2019). The current food and nutrition situation elicits debate on how best to transform our farming and food systems in order to ensure that everyone is free from hunger which continues to be a daunting challenge in most countries.
With climate change throwing in another set of challenges there is a need for a deeper conversation on how to feed the increasing world population now and in the near future. Globally, we have seen a lot of development in farming and related technologies. Although some of these technologies adopted by farmers have seen increased efficiency and production, the supply of food, more so staples is yet to catch up with the demand. Even as we think about more than 1 billion people who are hungry today, the question of how we will feed an additional 2 billion people in 2050 is even more demanding.
Population increase and expansion of urban areas have led to land fragmentation, therefore, resulting in smaller portions for production. With increased automation and expansion of service sectors- fewer people are even interested to take up food production. Unsustainable farming practices have led to land degradation eating into productivity even further. The big question, therefore, is how we enhance production while maintaining or improving productivity, and restoring degraded lands, lost biodiversity, water quality, and soil fertility.
On the consumer side of the coin, rapid urbanization has also been seen to accelerate changes in consumer tastes and preferences. For instance, there is now an increased inclination towards processed and easily prepared foods. With increasing per capita income, globalization, and enhanced information flow- consumers continue to demand more variety than before.
Unsustainable farming practices have led to land degradation eating into productivity even further.
In Sub-Saharan Africa where maize is the important staple food, the production is still lower at an average of 1.5 tons per hectare compared to a potential of 9 tons per hectare. This is a lost opportunity to achieve food security. Research has shown that maize production must increase four times to meet the tripling demand in Africa. In Kenya, the agriculture sector plays a key role in the economy. An increase in productivity also means an increase in incomes for more than 60% of Africa’s workforce and farmers who depend on farming for a living income contributing to the overall alleviation of poverty (SDG1).
Maize remains the staple food in Kenya. Despite immense investments by both the public and private sectors in the crop, maize production in the country still lags behind its demand. According to FAO 2018, 40 million bags are produced against a demand of more than 50 million bags annually. This leaves a deficit of about 10 million bags. The 40 million bags are also shared between humans and livestock as there is an increasing trend of feeding livestock with grains to supplement foliage feeds.
The provision of fertilizer subsidies to maize farmers is one of the approaches employed by the government to support the production of important crops. The adoption of new technology in agriculture such as the use of new and improved varieties mainly developed by the Kenya Seed Company has also played a vital role in increasing yields. The use of agrochemicals has also doubled in the last 5 years. This form of farming has been blamed for the destruction of the ecosystem and over time affecting land productivity.
In order to keep up with population growth and increasing demand for food there is a need to improve overall agricultural productivity and efficiency in the sector. There is a need to develop holistic food systems approaches to the current and foreseen food and nutrition security challenges. This will help address all underlying issues affecting the production, distribution, access, and utilization of food to beat hunger and malnutrition.
First, the role of crop diversification in improving household food security, especially in a country where most farmers depend on rain-fed food production systems. Recently due to the effects of drastic changes in weather and rainfall patterns production of maize due to unpredicted rainfall has led many households to food insecurity and even led to a lack of enough feeds for livestock. Therefore, encouraging crop diversification among farmers would lead to diversity in diets, increased income, and ultimate food security.
Crop diversification can be viewed as a resilient farming system that can be more beneficial to farmers in the wake of climate change. Having farmers adopt varieties that are suited to the different weather conditions in their areas to changes in climate will help in overcoming food insecurity challenges.
Secondly, the development of sustainable seed systems is key to achieving sustained gains as far as food security is concerned. Further development, building strong monitoring, transparency, and coordination of the seed value chain will aid in the effectiveness and efficiency of the sector. Furthermore, a well-established value chain will lead to higher demand for seed and hence lead to more produce particularly when the certified seed is used.