Food Insecurity in Kenyan Urban Areas: What is going on?
Food insecurity has remained a major challenge in the Horn of Africa in recent years. While in the past focus has been on rural areas; there is concern at the increasing levels of food insecurity in rapidly growing poor urban neighborhoods. Due to the rapid urbanization in most SSA cities, stable livelihood sources are a major challenge for those that live in poor urban informal settlements or slums. As a result most slum dwellers lack consistent access to income, thus heavily relying on casual labour or petty trade. With this rising concern it is no surprise that two weeks ago, household food security was among the critical topics discussed at the 13th World Congress of Public Health Conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Urban dwellers are highly vulnerable to food prices as they rely heavily on the market for all basic goods and services compared to rural dwellers who even without money in the pocket can get food from their gardens. The food security in an urban household is largely determined by the household source of livelihood. Poor urban dwellers in particular tend to rely on unstable income sources such as casual wage labor, which varies seasonally. The rise in food prices has forced many to spend more than half of their income on food. To cope with this, many households reduce food consumption (quantity and quality) in times of unemployment or when food prices are high, resulting in food insecurity.
APHRC has been researching urban food security for some time. At the conference, I presented a paper titled; “Do livelihoods predict household food security in two urban slums in Nairobi, Kenya” during the Household Food Security and Public Health session. This paper is based on data from a larger study done by APHRC in collaboration with Concern Worldwide, which seeks to identify key indicators of urban emergencies and vulnerabilities. The particular focus of this study is to investigate how livelihood sources predict food security in an urban poor setting in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as the contribution of other predictors of household food security. Building on the need to identify key indicators of urban emergencies and vulnerabilities, the key findings from the study are:
- Employment status matters: Those in casual employment were two times more likely to be food insecure compared to those in formal employment.
- Big household size leads to greater food insecurity: Households with more than 6 persons were two and a half times as likely to be food insecure as those with one person
- Household income is key: Those that earned less than 5000 Ksh per month were four times more likely to be food insecure compared to those that earned more than 10,000.
This study underscores the need to address diminishing stable economic opportunities for poor urban households as part of the efforts to reduce urban poverty and associated food insecurity. Household food insecurity has a direct bearing on the health of household members especially children, pregnant or lactating mothers and the elderly. In the medium term, it results in chronic malnutrition manifest as stunting and poor cognitive development. This implies that food insecurity today will be tomorrow’s reduced productivity.
The study attracted a lot of attention because it highlighted the magnitude of food insecurity in urban areas. There was widespread agreement at the event that due to rapid urbanization in major sub-Saharan African cities, there should be particular focus given to the global urban poor in terms food security issues. Over the next few months, the study team will continue to look at issues of growing urban household food insecurity. Your feedback and input is welcome, please feel free to leave a comment below.