Food sovereignty: An illusion or can it end hunger?

When I wrote the article in DN 30/1/23 entitled “Pro-GMO Farmers are not Villains”, I got reactions from people whose main concern with GMOs was that it did not embrace the food sovereignty movement. I am thankful to those who took time to enlighten me on its perceived advantages, with the hope that I could base my farming activities on it.

This movement was conceived in1996 for peasants and rural people but has been gaining traction with anti-globalisation bodies. In brief, it is the right for people to define their agriculture path, with food as a right and not a tradable commodity. It also advocates for an equitable sharing of food producing resources in a sustainable way.

In my opinion it conflates so many issues from global food trade, indigenous food production and having localised value chains among others. Therefore as commercial farmer, I can’t align myself with it, as it would be akin to the proverbial trees that voted for the axe, believing that with its wooden handle it was one of them and it would protect them.

As long as we are a part of a global community, countries are going to be in competition for food.This will always be complicated by issues of fair trade, subsidies, climate change and politics. But the countries that will be food secure and have excess for selling, are those that will give their farmers incentives, use agri science, mechanisation, and reduce post harvest losses, all done in a sustainable environment.

While it is unfortunate that there are people who are facing hunger in our country, we should respectfully agree that if we are ever going to be food secure, it will not be by movements but by having farmers who are well compensated. If we hold the utopian idea that food can be non tradable and without an alternative mechanism for compensating farmers – we will eventually kill the business that we need to put food on the plates.

On the concept’s emphasis on peasants and indigenous farmers – without being ashamed of our roots, these labels sound derogatory to Kenyan farmers. This is because besides professionals who are engaging in farming, our high literacy rates, access to mobile phones, radio and TVs in local languages has completely changed the profile and demographic of the Kenyan farmers.

The so-labeled peasants want to improve their lives with better education, housing and leisure – which they are happy to do from the proceeds of their farming. On their own volition they choose to be commercial farmers and they should therefore not be encumbered by movements that shrink their potential as well as their market range.

The movement also advocates for empowering farmers to own their farm-to-fork food value chains so as to maximise profits. However this should come with the caution that if there is irregular supply, lack of skill, finance and brand recognition, farmers may suffer great losses by holding on to their produce. Sometimes it is prudent to sell at whatever stage of the value chain as long as they get a good return with minimal risks.

Lastly we need to acknowledge that large scale farmers and transnational agri companies have a role to play in our endeavour to be food secure. This is because in the absence of the government on the ground, they are often the pioneers of new crops, farming methods and markets. A movement that begrudges the large players, would deny the small holder farmers mutual benefits such as contract farming, extension services and free farmers field days that some of the large scale farmers offer.

As we welcome new ideas on food production, we must be careful not to radically shift the goal posts out of the playing field and be left holding a begging bowl.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s