Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

Food security is a powerful weapon to defeat poverty

Sunday, 27 May 2018 10:30 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Africa is rising. But at the same time, Africa is the continent with the largest number of people, (390 million) living in extreme poverty. One in five people go to bed hungry every night.

At the core of Kenya’s new and ambitious Big Four Agenda (Food Security, Universal Health Coverage, Affordable Housing and increase to 15 percent the contribution of Manufacturing to GDP), is a reduction in the number of people living in poverty.

Data from a recent World Bank survey indicates that about 36 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line.

The Big Four Agenda correctly identifies food security as a major pathway for improving the conditions of a majority, of Kenyans.

As is the case across virtually the entire continent, Kenya is one of the countries where economic prosperity has been accompanied by a rise in the absolute number of poor people. This emerging trend means that the majority of the 1 million youth who enter the job market every year end up in jobs that cannot lift them out of poverty.

A World Bank report indicates about 1percent reduction in poverty over the last ten years. The key point is not that the absolute numbers have increased but rather that the pace of poverty reduction is too slow to achieve the 2030 SDG goal on poverty reduction

As the country rolls out the Big Four Agenda, we must reflect on those sectors that offer the best pathways for quick wins and determine how the anticipated prosperity can be shared equitably.   

Global surveys have unequivocally shown that the agriculture sector provides the best opportunities to create employment and lift people out of poverty.  

In Kenya the agriculture sector accounted for the largest share of poverty reduction.

With a growing population and continued land degradation due to overgrazing, poor farming practices, deforestation and climate change, Africa must look to new ways to make farming more productive and profitable.

Akinwunmi Adesina, the President, African Development Bank (AfDB) says agriculture will be a one trillion dollar business in Africa by 2030.

However, a disturbing characteristic of recent growth in African economies is that the rate at which poverty is reducing is lower than the rate at which the population is rising.

Even as Kenya seeks to implement poverty reduction strategies, it should fix a keen eye on the rapid population growth. 

Consider this. In 1956, Kenya’s population was the same as Sweden - 7 million. Today Sweden is around 10 million people and Kenya is around 46 million people. By 2030 Kenya’s population is expected to reach 65 million and by 2050 around 90 million. Kenya’s total fertility rate stands at around 4.

The Asian Tigers were able to bring down their total fertility rates, and this allowed them to reap a demographic dividend. Gross domestic product increased sevenfold, an economic boom described as the “Asian economic miracle” followed.

Every girl and woman must be supported and allowed to achieve her full human potential, and be educated and empowered and able to join the work force as well as to plan her family. They are the engines of economic growth.

President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report in August 2016. The report shows that Sub-Saharan Africa loses US$ 95 billion annually due to gender inequality and lack of women’s empowerment.

The place to start is with the youth, with the twin goal of getting young people into agriculture-related jobs as well as providing them with reproductive health services and information.

Lack of information and services - and the often-perilous consequences –leads to mistakes that impact the education and employment opportunities for many. 

Kenya must create one million new jobs every year for the next 10 years to cater for the rapidly expanding youth bulge. 

With agriculture as the country’s economic base, this is the one sector that can absorb most of the unemployed young people in Kenya, both as semi-skilled and highly skilled labour.

The country’s leadership has clearly put in place the right growth momentum with reduction of poverty as the centre of focus. We must all come together to make that growth inclusive, and to leave no one behind.

Moody Awori, is the former Vice President of the Republic of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.