Changing rural-urban contexts, potential approaches to address food security and nutrition
I use my rural home to discuss change, emerging rural-urban reality and suggest approaches to achieve food security and nutrition.
In the last 20 years, every time I have made a visit to my rural home in Kenya, there is noticeable change to the landscape, and height of people; previously a healthy and tall group of people.
In the 1990s, once darkness set in, only unavoidable circumstances could make me walk the rural road from the main road to my home, worse still, walk 10 kms past my home area. The place was made up of a rural road where the occasional public transport stopped operating by 5:30-6:00pm. The telephone and electricity grid system extended barely beyond 5kms inroad. Homes were visible mostly during the day due to their metallic-roofing. The rest of the land was trees, a variety of food and cash crops and livestock.
Fast forward to 2016 and the whole place is lit up. A drive from the urban center 15 kms away is squeezed by shops and houses along the main road and deep into former croplands. Branch off to my rural home and beyond, no more fear walking the area after sunset; there is development; as it were.
The thicket at hilltops and along rivers, food and cash crops on farms along the rural road have been replaced by grocery stores and imposing residential homes. The rural public transport is very frequent, dominated by the newly introduced motorcycle transport to people’s door steps. The electricity grid system now extends as far as the rural road; branching into many homes and on to the far end of another main road.
When I asked if all the sons from the various homes decided to construct huge houses with red-tiled roofs, I was told most of those houses belong to land buyers, many who reside in urban centers (nearest town or the nation’s capital city)!
Whenever I visit, I look forward to consume only the best natural food items (that self promise of many city dwellers). I ventured into the nearby farmer’s markets, to more surprises; the price of bananas and indigenous vegetables was almost what I pay in Canada, where all bananas are imports. My researcher brain got into gear and I spent many days at various markets, not on formal research, but observing, purchasing and chatting with sellers on the price and food items.
What has changed?
Many rural areas are now linked to an urban center; directly and indirectly.
Devolution in Kenya has brought about rural development in the form of expanded road networks, telephone and electricity networks.
- The expansion of previously small towns into large cities – sort of competition on which region has the largest town or city!
- Able urban residents constructed city-like homes in rural areas.
Government supported land titling programs led to quick land transactions; previously, many rural lands belonged to families, acquired through inheritance, never sold.
Introduction of modern farming technologies with pros and cons on rural farmers.
o Farmers who have a good comprehension and can afford the whole package (seed to processing, storage and marketing) have seen increased food yields.
o Small scale farmers, especially the older generation of family farmers; lacking in literacy, have embraced the new farming technology in bits; seeds without related fertilizers, processing and storage. The result is part of the failed crops on many rural family farms.
Climate change, witnessed in the form of changing weather patterns, extended drought periods and floods catch many farmers unaware. The result is wasted seed and destroyed harvests.
Increased rural-urban migration left many rural farms lacking workers. Once rural labour arrives in urban centers, the immigrants prefer to consume familiar foods; multicultural foods, yet rural areas lack labour to produce the desired food.
Approaches to address food security and nutrition
- On-going land titling programs to incorporate information on the role of a title deeds; provision of security of tenure and not a license to sell land.
- Civic education on the value of land; goes beyond the one-off payment of thousands or millions of shillings – wasted money when handed over to a family lacking in knowledge on cash investments.
- Information on devolution as more than expansion of urban centers, to include inclusive decision-making to maximize on regional advantages - my rural home, a highland landscape, previously known for its bananas, cash and other food crops, can continue to safeguard that advantage to feed urban centers.
- National and local programs on food diversity and nutrition. The expansion of road networks provided false food security – rural families base their food security on the market to feed them – the tragedy; who will grow the food?
- Though more and more people prefer that governments set the market free to regulate itself; it has not worked in rural settings where literacy levels are still wanting. The old debate is still relevant on governments watching out on agricultural technologies (especially seeds) now aggressively marketed to rural farmers.
o Noticeable in cases where youth farming has succeeded – partly because they have the education, hence comprehend the whole agricultural production system, including inputs and outputs. Raises the issue of gender, access to education, agricultural inputs, and inclusive decision-making from household to national levels.
- Climate change and food security takes us back to evaluate the extent to which national governments implement global and national policies.
o For example, relations between land sales, clear felling and rivers drying up.
o Expansion of road networks and pollution from the long distance that food travels.
o Urbanization increases competition for water resources; construction of houses, roads, etc., – and pollution of water sources and food crops.
- Food, markets and marketing in relation to the rising cases of overweight and obesity (in both urban and rural areas) – calls for awareness creation on food diversity, food choices and nutrition.