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City Food Systems


By Prof. Raphael G Wahome edited by Zachary Kimari

Cities are largely dependent on the rural areas for food. Unwittingly, they usually are the final and most important component of the complete city food system. In a nutshell, the food system is simply  an economic system, that facilitates  production, aggregation, processing and distribution of food to city dwellers; with proceeds flowing back through the value chain actors’ and even further  back to input manufacturers. However, it is much more complex than that it seems. It has effects on soil structure, fertility and water-holding capacity; resilience to climate change, crop, animal and human productivity; food security, health and biodiversity; social capital, employment generation, gender; and general national development. It is therefore apparent, that it transcends geopolitical relationships, politics, governance, social and cultural aspects.

The demand for affordable foods in the cities grows at the rate of population growth modulated by changing tastes and cultural diversity. There is also a  similar increase in enterprises to meet this demand, driven by desire for profit.  These enterprises span across the provision of needed inputs and equipment, through aggregation transport and distribution to the consumer industry of retailing and restauranting. 


Interest to make money has overridden core needs of sustainability, health, fairness and care

Opportunity for gain abounds, since people must eat. In modern times, interest to make money has overridden core needs of sustainability, health, fairness and care. The consequences are manifest in depleted and poisoned soils, loss of biodiversity, exponential increase in non-communicable diseases,  oppression and exploitation of the producing communities and urban poor.In their current state, city food systems are not sustainable and are failing to meet food and nutrition needs for all.

Farmer Spraying Farm

Increasing demand for food is linked to greater, intensified and extensive  use of synthetic agricultural inputs. Ultimately Modern farming has  been equated to desertion of nature for production needs. It does this at a high cost to the environment and resultant loss of resilience among the poor.  The cost of biodiversity loss or for ecosystems services is not met by the current system. Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined in the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – Synthesis, 2005).  Finally, nature has started to fight back. Now even FAO has recognized the need for “production intensification through ecosystem management” (Plant Production and Protection Division, www.fao.org/ag/AGP). That ideally, consumers should care about what they eat is produced, how safe and nutritious it is, has come as a revelation to many. 

Despite this “revelation” agricultural production tends to follow the same old cue. It seems as if the only approvable model of agricultural production in the developing world must ape that in developed world – meaning greater intensification and mono-cultural production dependent upon stronger push for more synthetic input. It is thus easy to predict the outcome. With nature fighting back, more inputs must be made available for less production until vast portions of hitherto productive land lies in waste. Examples abound globally and locally.

The following article appeared on 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.