By TITUS KINOTI; AUTHOR & AGRICULTURE EXPERT
From time immemorial, the policies of governments have shaped food and farming practices. The Holy book of Genesis (47:24) reveals that the Egypt pharaoh took 20 percent of all food production from his farmers as a tax. Governments in less developed countries today habitually burden farmers with taxes. Farming at all levels is greatly influenced by politics.
Kenya exports chicks, poultry equipment, and lime as raw materials for manufacturing chicken feed to Uganda, yet it produces 3 million eggs per day of which 70% is exported to Kenya. In the last two years, there has been a poultry decline of negative 13% whereas Tanzania and Uganda markets are growing. High tax in Kenya is to blame for the declining growth. It’s unfortunate that Kenya is importing most agricultural produce that includes maize, soya, and livestock products that can be produced locally. The bottom-up model should support chicken rearing for the youth and women and create an enabling environment for the hustler fund usage where less capital investment is required.
A complete value chain should be initiated to support the chicken business from feed subsidy to soya cultivation which is mainly imported for the feed manufacture
Poverty, inequity, conflict, climate change, gender discrimination, and feeble government and health systems all play a role in keeping nutritious food out of reach for millions of people. Famine and hunger have been the main challenge to farmers and consumers in equal measure. There have been fewer incidences of these challenges in strong democracies and free market economies
In most cases, the politicians offer short-term policies for their quick wins to achieve political interests within the stipulated term before the next round of elections. You cannot rule where hunger prevails, so politicians offer quick fixes to the challenge. This is what is ailing the food industry today. Experts like the economists, FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization advise on long-term solutions for the ever-increasing need to feed the future of more than 7 billion mouths globally.
The worst famine globally took place in China between 1958–1961, during the so-called Great Leap Forward (GLF), when radical policy decisions made by the unchallenged leader Mao Zedong caused an estimated 30-45 million people to die of hunger. The GLF was a five-year plan of forced agriculture collectivization and rural industrialization that was instituted by the Chinese Communist Party that resulted in mass deaths by starvation, execution, torture, forced labor, and suicide out of desperation. The world’s most recent famines have taken place in non-democratic states such as North Korea after 1996, and in southern Somalia in 2011 as well.
In his Food Politics book, Paarlberg Robert outlines the most important actors in food politics and explains how in every setting where food politics takes place, organizations with divergent preferences will compete for influence. For instance, organizations representing consumers will usually want food prices to be as low as possible, while advocates for farmers usually want high producer prices (except livestock producers, who will want the cheap grain to feed to animals). In addition, farmers’ organizations will typically join shoulder to shoulder to resist tight environmental regulations in their sector and will be supported by the powerful industries that supply them with inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides. Groups claiming to speak for consumers will line up against food and beverage companies when they issue taxes on junk food or nutrition labeling requirements.
The new “miracle crops” also provide higher yields for domestic markets and have temporarily conquered hunger in a few of the Third World nations. But the much-heralded Green Revolution has, in most countries, failed to address fundamental economic problems, such as those caused by inequitable land ownership patterns, which often allow a wealthy elite to control a huge percentage of the productive land.
The perceived inequity of the current arrangements in the global food system has led to the Third World’s distrust of efforts on the part of multinational corporations to continue retrieving wild crop relatives from their centers of genetic diversity. There have been, after all, a number of historical examples of advanced nations taking genetic treasures from developing countries without proper compensation.
The entire landscape of the seed industry is changing. Multinational chemical companies have been purchasing seed companies and other sources of genetic diversity and are either marketing or preparing to market new plant varieties that are compatible with larger quantities of pesticides and fertilizers — which makes them money but with further changes in the global environment that needs attention.
Climate change has exerted pressure on agriculture. The emissions that are eating the Ozone layer are mainly coming from the developed and industrialized world yet the people who are causing the least emissions are suffering the most.
Conflicts in North Eastern have been a common challenge due to drought. The Nomads keep searching for food in the neighborhood through peaceful or violent means to survive. A well-connected cartel comes into play in the cattle rustling to supply the KMC – Kenya Meat Commission as well.
The fish in Naivasha, Lake Victoria, Baringo, etc are dying and becoming smaller and smaller due to climate change. Food prices are increasing every other day and poverty levels are increasing at an alarming rate.
A number of countries decided to place restrictions on food exports, to protect their consumers from price inflation at home. China imposed export taxes on grains and grain products. Argentina raised export taxes on wheat, corn, and soybeans. Russia raised export taxes on wheat. Malaysia and Indonesia imposed export taxes on palm oil. Egypt, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia eventually banned exports of rice. India, the world’s third-largest rice exporter, banned exports of rice other than basmati. When these export bans were instituted, international prices began spiking upward, which led importers to panic and to begin buying as much as they could before the price went higher.
When international wheat prices then re-spiked in the winter of 2010–2011, street demonstrations began in North Africa, where wheat flour, used for bread, is a basic staple. During the course of this “Arab Spring,” governments were toppled in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
Fertilizer-producing countries banned exports in 2020-22 due to low supply. Fertilizer prices were heightened by higher input costs. Fertilizer raw material costs, particularly Sulfur and Ammonia, increased sharply as refinery curtailments due to COVID-19 restrictions limited supplies. Urea stock costs also rose, including natural gas prices which jumped in early 2021 due to unusually cold weather. Spot Asian LNG and European and western U.S. natural gas prices hit record highs in early 2021.
Currently, Russia’s war in Ukraine is preventing grain from leaving the “breadbasket of the world” and making food more expensive across the globe, threatening to worsen shortages, hunger, and political instability in developing countries. Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70 percent of its sunflower oil, and are big suppliers of corn.
In today’s advanced industrial and post-industrial societies, especially in Europe and North America, the politics of food and agriculture is undergoing significant change. There was a time when food consumers in these societies wanted just four things: foods that were safe, plentiful in variety, more convenient to purchase and prepare, and lower in cost. Now consumers in these countries are beginning to demand other things as well, such as foods with greater freshness and nutritional value, foods grown with fewer synthetic chemicals, foods grown with a smaller carbon footprint, foods that are home-grown, and foods produced without harm to farm animals. In Kenya, residents are struggling to have their dairy bread. It is time to work out the food and farming politics that are negatively affecting the people.