Health and Agriculture – The “Missing” Links

Agriculture produces the world’s food, fibre and materials for shelter; and in many countries it is also an important source of livelihood among the poor. Also, sometimes agriculture is related directly to poor health including malnutrition, food-borne illnesses, livestock-related diseases and chronic diseases. In turn, health also affects agriculture influencing demand for food, work performance, productivity and income.

People eat to live; to be healthy; and for the simple joy of it. However, bad eating can lead to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) including diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, gout and cancer. In fact, the prevalence of NCDs and the risk factors at local level is high and on the rise. NCDs account for 63% of mortality globally. By 2030, the four main NCD-related deaths (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory illnesses) in Africa will exceed the combined deaths from communicable diseases, nutritional, maternal and neo-natal deaths by 75%.

The cost of care for NCDs dominates health care budgets. In Kenya, NCDs accounts for more than 50% of total hospital admissions and more than 55% of hospital deaths. Finally, mental illnesses such as depression are rising and associated with other NCDs. Kenya’s health care system is not adequately equipped to manage such NCDs burden.

 However, healthy diets can help reduce the risk. Eating nutrient dense foods and balancing energy intake with the necessary physical activity and a healthy weight is essential. The density of nutrients in foods is dependent on production practices.  Although complex to explain, it is clear that diet and foodstuffs production practices impact on consumer’s health. Informed authority has it that foods, rather than nutrients, should form the basis for dietary recommendations on the rule of the thumb: “eat a variety of real foods; mostly plants”.

 However, current systems of agriculture are designed to reduce food diversity. Four main crops – rice, maize, wheat and potatoes – provide two-thirds of global dietary energy intake. Agriculture has increasingly become an engine for generating animal feed, biofuels and industrial ingredients (e.g. sugar-sweetened beverages, ready-to-eat meals and snacks).

New investments in food systems research and production are needed to develop technologies for production of nutrient dense crops at lower cost; in tandem with efforts to develop food value chains to meet the new demand efficiently. These efforts are important for supporting stable incomes for farmers, expanding the production, preservation and distribution of vegetables, pulses and fruits. They are also needed to popularise healthier production environments, food business, healthier eating and healthier lifestyle. Indeed, widespread behavioural changes towards preference for pulses, vegetables and fruits in schools, workplaces, markets and in homes may also be effective without restricting choices. The desired change may be achieved by public policy, strategy and practice at community level.

 We now see that new thinking is needed to afford these multiple benefits. For example, pulse, fruits, vegetables and traditional varieties production and processing businesses can offer new livelihood opportunities for millions. In this way, food systems can be leveraged to affect human health and nutrition: positively influencing food safety, food prices, household incomes and women’s access to productive resources. It can have a positive impact on the environment and many human health and nutrition outcomes related to extreme weather.

 All stakeholders should confront the challenge and find solutions for improved nutrition and health; ending hunger and malnutrition while protecting the ecosystem services.

Health and Agriculture – The “Missing” Links written By Eustace Kiarii appeared in The Kenya Organic Food Festival and Exhibition 2018 Proceedings

Organic Shift: Why We Should All Care

Organic food and fibre production safeguard the environment, protects consumers against non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) and creates just wealth and work. It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world estimated at 816 Billion USD in 2016.  During the same year the industry contributed 3 billion KES from exports and 439 Million KES in domestic consumption. East African Regional market is growing at 20% per annum, with the up-market outlets and the tourist industry as major consumers.

The Kenya Organic Agriculture sector is growing fast, currently with 150,479 Ha certified land with the main products for exports being vegetables, salad pre-packs, herbs, spices essential oils, nuts, coffee, tea, and cold pressed oils.

Organic adoption rates are responding to meet the growing domestic and export markets, overcoming scepticism, knowledge and technological challenges. Agricultural research institutions and universities are undertaking research to address most of the challenges that smallholders face and need a platform for sharing discovered solutions or to commercialize products or technologies. In addition, most of farmer innovations are not documented. The NGO/government extension systems have proved inadequate to meet farmers’ needs, lacking in organic competencies and diversity, often causing more confusion than help. This eventually drives farmers to farmer technology transfer which is a slow process, sometimes riddled with unnecessary failure, and in most cases confined only to those areas where the innovation was developed. Consequently leading to useful knowledge being scattered and fragmented among research institution departments and farms.

The need to collate all this data, information and knowledge into a farmer/end user accessible database has never been more urgent. So that useful practices can be validated to meet the different needs of stakeholders. As well, a forum for sharing technologies and knowledge in practice, word, song and dance will foster growth and exchange of ideas, experiences, expectations and views among farmers and stakeholders. Such a forum will also register and share success stories from organic production systems, moving it from kitchen gardening to commercial high dividend enterprises for wealth and food security. 

Where to Get your Organic Fix

This article was updated on 16 November 2020

The following article appeared in the Proceedings of the Kenya Organic Food Festival 2018.

Last year on 21st September 2018, Kenya celebrated the 1st Organic Food Festival at Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies Upper Kabete. From the conference proceeding and key note speeches it was clear that the country has undergone a radical transformation in our food systems and feeding habits. Within the past 2 decades as globalisation has taken root in our highly capitalistic society, we have found ourselves shifting towards fast foods and out-of-home eating habits. Life has become faster and thus meal time is rushed and lacks the ceremony in socialisation and introspection we used to enjoy years past and has become a rushed affair of food takeaways and eating on the move.

To recompense this shifting attitude, fast food franchises have mushroomed taking up strategic corners in our busy town centres, with every corner of Nairobi’s CBD spotting a familiar food joint. They churn out tonnes upon tonnes of fried foods and sugar packed drinks to feed a hungry public, most of whom don’t really think much about the hazards of their unhealthy binges; if it quashes the hunger and at the right price, what more is there to think about?

‘Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine food’ ~ Hippocrates

Food is everything, it powers our bodies and helps us fight off infections. If you want Formula 1 performance from your car, you take care of the engine, do regular maintenance, buy the best motor oil and don’t just fuel from any petrol station, you become careful and considerate, you do your research and only buy from trusted sources. Same thing with your body and health, if you want peak performance, you go for regular doctor check-ups, eat the right foods and exercise often, take good care of yourself. In this day and age of increased prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), you have to eat right to improve the quality of your life.

 

It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are loaded with disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But even fresh, colourful produce carries its own risks, namely in the form of pesticides. That’s why eating organic food is recommended, because unlike conventionally produced food, organic foods have no pesticide residues or heavy metal contamination. As a study conducted by Egerton University revealed, pesticide residue contamination of food is much higher and more prevalent than previously thought. Another study by University of Nairobi also revealed that majority of urban farmers in Nairobi use untreated sewage waste to irrigate their farmlands, which not only exposed them and the consumers to heavy metal pollutants but also disease-causing pathogens like E. coli.

Organic foods, from certified sources, on the other hand, are much safer and are produced under stringent organic standards which guarantee the buyers that;

(1) No synthetic pesticides/chemicals have been used in production

(2) the farmer got a fair price for their produce

(3) The environment was not damaged in the process.

Despite the advantages of organic foods, majority of consumers in Kenya, either don’t have knowledge of their existence or where to buy them or both. Most consumers are as well not conversant with standards and certifications common in the organic food industry. According to a study by KOAN conducted in 2014 only 18% of consumers could correctly identify approved organic certification marks. This ignorance allows unscrupulous traders and farmers to benefit unduly from premiums designed to compensate genuine organic farmers for not using chemicals. For example, in Kenya, the Kilimohai Organic Certification Mark is the KEBS approved standard for all organic produce and processed products, but many traders still claim their products are organic even without complying to the standard. You will find supermarket shelves filled with products labelled as organic but without the Kilimohai Mark.

Kilimohai Organic Certification Mark

Consumers are also hard pressed to purchase organic foods due to the perceptions that they’re expensive, but organic foods are normally about 30% more expensive than conventional produce. Which begs the question over how much value people really put on their health and well being. Most people are too caught up in daily hustles and bustles to really think about their daily investments in present and future health. Several studies have shown that people are less likely to invest in their health if they have not been to the hospital or a check up in the recent past. This is not a diatribe on Kenya consumer habits but a call to action to all people in our beautiful country to be more mindful of their health.

Organic food production, retail and consumer protection has been championed the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), through its activities and many other Non-Governmental Organizations, organic agriculture is securing a firm footing in policy, production and distribution Kenya.

Although it is possible to get organic food countrywide, getting certified organic produce can only be found in limited locations. Currently the most consistent and reliable organic food outlets are located in Nairobi, some of them have been in existence for over 10 years, while others are upstarts and need the support of consumers and farmers to make them trending successes. Without much ado here are the top trending organic food retail outlets in Nairobi;

Farmers’ Markets

  1. Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ market appeal to the innate sense of community and common purpose, different from the commercial municipal trader dominated markets. While offering value, diversity and freshness in produce, organic farmers’ markets close the gap between farmers and their customers. Globally farmers’ markets have been community driven, where local farmers are able to sell their products and exchange notes with each other as well as their customers. Without delving too deeply into the symbolism and importance of Organic Farmers markets, here are the main ones to look out for;

  1. Kids Ventures Garden Estate – Officially opened in 2017. Open every Saturday from 9.00am, you can find the freshest organic fruits, vegetables and other dry cereal products. It is supported by farmers from surrounding Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos and Rongai.
  2. Organic Farmers Market KSPC Next to Hillcrest (Formerly at Purdy Arms) – One of the most prolific farmers market in Kenya with a good following of farmers and buyers. You will get your pick of fruits, vegetables, cheeses and animal products. Open every Saturday, the Organic farmers’ market has been consistent and reliable in service to its stakeholders.
  3. Karengata Farmers’ Market – Also found in Karen, it’s a relatively new organic market but with great potential. With a relatively moderate but growing number of farmers and buyers it is poised to be a considerable contender for the biggest Organic Farmers Market in Nairobi.
  4. US Embassy Organic Farmers Market – Open every Thursday, most of the farmers you’ll meet are regulars at other Farmers Markets.
  5. Community Sustainable Agriculture and Healthy Environment Program (C-SHEP) Farmers Market Rongai- Run by local Farmer CBO CSHEP in Rongai, this farmers market has been great conduit for local farmers who don’t have the ability or need to travel to Karen or Nairobi to sell their organic produce locally. This group also participates at the Kids Ventures Garden Estate Organic Farmers’ Market.

SuperMarkets

2. Supermarkets

Not everyone has the time to visit the local farmers’ market to get their organically grown groceries, supermarkets have been able to disrupt the traditional grocery shopping experience. The following are the main supermarket that have organic grocery sections;  

  1. CarreFour – 2 Rivers
  2. CarreFour – Karen

3. Tuskys Supermarket have contracted an agent company that will manage organic health sections of their retail chain. Plans are underway to start with Karen branch and eventually roll out in other branches.

Green Groceries

3. Green Groceries

Closely tied with supermarkets, green groceries have steadily become more popular especially near estates and other urban and sub-urban settlements. To get your organic groceries you can visit ;

  1. Sylvia’s basket
  2. Kalimoni Greens -Karen
  3. Organic Fruitas and Vegetal Stored Ltd
  4. CornerShop – Diamond Plaza Parklands
  5. Chandarana FoodPlus – Diamond Plaza

Organic Basket Deliveries

4. Basket Schemes

Sometime it is not possible to go out to get your organic supplies. Maybe the listed locations are out of your usual routes and you still need to buy the groceries. Worry not, Basket Delivery Schemes are available, the following providers give you fairly comprehensive lists of produce to pick from and deliver right to your doorstep;

  1. Sylvia’s basket
  2. Bridges Organic Restaurant
  3. Kalimoni Greens
  4. Mlango Farm

Hotel & Catering

5. Hotel and catering

Organic food is more than just grocery shopping, its about experiencing food as it was meant to be grown and eaten. Currently only 1 restaurant in Kenya serves over 80% purely organic certified menu and that is Bridges Organic Restaurant. The restaurant ha the rustic contemporary flair that feels upmarket but also quite homely. It is conveniently located in Nairobi CBD near city market.

Bridges Organic Restaurant Nairobi

For a more comprehensive list of organic retail outlets, Check Out KOANS Farmer and Trader Members’ Profiles.