COVID 19 pandemic: Food Security is an important National Security issue

According to the Ministry of health; general information about COVID-19 (, Corona Virus Disease 2019) is a new respiratory illness that can easily be spread from person to person. It spread through contact with droplets produced by a person who is sneezing or coughing or contaminated surfaces or objects. It can cause severe symptoms like fever, cough, headache, body aches and difficulty in breathing.

COVID-19 is preventable through; Washing your hands with soap and running water or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer, Keeping a social distance of at least 2 metres or 2-3 steps from people with flu-like symptoms, Avoiding shaking hands, hugging or kissing with people with flu-like symptoms, and Staying at home and avoiding travel when you have flu-like symptoms.

COVID 2019 cannot be transmitted through air. Early detection and treatment can contribute greatly to survival of the patient.

COVID-19 continues to ravage the world through infections and death toll reminiscent of a world war. The global power brokers and prefects of democracy have not been spared with economies falling to unprecedented levels. From closure of airlines and air spaces, grounding of transport systems including roads, rail and sea, night curfews to state of emergencies, closure of declared infected geographical jurisdictions to lock-downs, grounding of ‘non-essential’ industries and services, closure of institutions of learning and worship, suspension of social gatherings and other meetings, etc has become the new normal – a world order that threatens the very existentialism of humanity – it is apocalyptic in design. 

To avert the exponential rise in infections and death, the government has issued stringent measures including pleading with and persuading the populations; to work from home, work at home and to stay at home. ‘Staying at home’, ‘working at home’ and ‘working from home’ has direct and negative effect to productivity due to the temporary closure of industries, loss of jobs and the limitation of work outflows by the pandemic. 

“The pandemic has effectively brought out to the surface the need to critically reevaluate the agriculture sector policies with a view to effectively anchor agriculture and food supply chains on firm foundation in the event of pandemics and other global, regional and national emergencies in


The agriculture sector has continued to focus on a production dispensation without putting up the necessary long term food infrastructure to feed the nation at such a strenuous time. Kenya agriculture sector has a world class pool of human resource – excellent in startegic planning and modelling that borders on military precision or all-time prophesy. Moving the models from paper to a transformative reality is where the sector becomes a casualty in its own game. The experience of the pandemic should teach the mandarins both at state house and Kilimo house to rethink and refocus agriculture as an important element of the national security and predicate it directly under the presidency.  There exists a school of thought that believes that to contain local transmission of the novel corona virus, a total lock down might be inevitable. A lock down to save the lives of Kenyans cannot however be discussed without the issue of feeding Kenyans. Can the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Agriculture, Hon. Peter Munya,  like the Biblical Joseph feed the population to save it from the ravages of a global pandemic or simply put; a grounded population?  

In the holy bible, Joseph Created a Long-term Agricultural Policy and Infrastructure to cushion Egypt for seven years (Genesis 41:46-57). He collected all the excess food in the land and stored it in the cities. In every city he laid up the food from the fields around it. Atleast Pharaoh had dreamt. Kenya has no shortage of dreamers – planners – too.  

Can Kenya store food to take her population for two years in the event of an emergency requiring the commander in chief to lockdown the entire or part of the country?

Can the mandarins at Kilimo house assure the commander-in-chief that the country has adequate food in the food banks without the need for importing grains? The COVID-19 is affecting all countries of the world and the country might not be lucky to secure imports as source countries move to stockpile the grain for their populations.

Without food for the population; no government on earth has any business governing its people. It therefore follows that food security (food production, food distribution, food banks/reserves) is a national security function. Like in enforcing human containment in the war against COVID-19, it evidently calls for the police state to drive the cogs of an effective national food system. The nation can only be food secure, if it has stock piles adequate for its population for an intervening period of not less than one year. Food for the population is not what farmers are holding in their domestic stores; or what is projected to be harvested as is often reported by the government. The nation is years on end treated to the circus of “expecting a bumper harvest in North Rift” without due regard to the management of that harvested grain.  

Adequate food for the population is what the government has saved in the food reserves or simply national food banks. It is not what the millers and the traders are holding. It is not the maize in the fields in TransNzoia or rice in the paddies in Mwea or North Kano plains. To paraphrase this – food is not the ‘projected’ stocks of fish in the waters. If anyone thinks that adequate food lies in ‘projections’ – ‘you are fired!’

The national population and housing census 2019 has given the country the requisite statistics to facilitate planning. Kenya’s population is approximately 48 million people drawn from a total of 12,143.9 households. The government knows its people and it has over-qualified renowned human resource capital to adequately plan and to implement plans of no mean feat. The country has a functional government – political and administrative – infrastructure necessary to roll out the plans. Besides, the country is endowed with an active human and technological capital capable of production if the policy environment is conducive. COVID-19 pandemic should of necessity bring a reawakening that should revolutionize how agriculture in this country is handled. From the disjointed, uncoordinated, ailing and inadequately funded sector – to a national security priority discourse; a sector that is well-coordinated with a ‘Joseph’ who is required by law to report the status of food security to the national security committee. National food security should be under the radar of the national security with clearly spelt out accountability mechanism.     

The Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) (2019 – 2029), have qualified the ‘vulnerable population’ as the target for the strategic food reserve coverage. It defines the vulnerable population as the 1.3 million chronically food-insecure Kenyans in ASAL areas, and the approximately 4 million Kenyans in need of government support to be food-secure during emergencies (e.g. droughts) based on historical data. For this population, the assumed per capita consumption is 114 kg/capita/year of maize. It seeks to realize this through, restructuring governance and operations of the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) to better serve 4 million vulnerable Kenyans through: i. reserves optimized for emergency responses only; ii. buy/sell guidelines published with pre-determined emergency release triggers for stocks and cash; iii. private sector warehousing; and iv. price stability managed through Treasury (i.e., minimum price controls and cash transfers). In the raging storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 47 million Kenyans subscribes to the category of ‘vulnerable population’.  

ASTGS is an ambitious and a futuristic strategy, but it is yet to be marched with commensurate energy, resources and investment levels to jumpstart its implementation – one year on, and it is still on the launch pad. The strategy which is not backed by a policy is coasting at the banks of implementation inertia; blamed on lack of resources to establish and operationalize the agricultural transformation office (ATO); and the ever complex interplay between the two levels of government thanks to political devolution that is devoid of results-based orientation. The agricultural sector accountability on service delivery conveniently slips through the fingers of politics and bureaucracy in the expense of an equally politicized and a conveniently hungry population.

For over the last half of the century, agriculture has been, is and risks being handled as business as usual. COVID-19 pandemic needs to jolt the nation into higher latitude of securing Kenya’s food security and therefore national security. The nation cannot purport to be fighting hunger and malnutrition for 60 years and still walk amongst the community of nations with its head held high.  

By Charles Mbuthia(Corporate affairs)

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