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More children at risk of malnutrition in Kenya’s urban centres

According to the World Health Organization, around 35% of children under five in Kenya are stunted through malnutrition, with food insecurity widespread in many rural parts of the country.

Poverty is the main underlying cause of this malnutrition. In its recent report ‘A Life Free from Hunger’, Save the Children says the problem isn’t one of there not being enough food in marketplaces, but simply that families cannot afford to buy it.

In north-east Kenya, a Hunger Safety Net Programme is being funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). This is a cash-transfer scheme aimed at supporting those in extreme poverty where food insecurity is a constant issue. Under the programme, over 60,000 households receive an electronic payment every two months. This is particularly targeted at those looking after orphans and vulnerable children. The programme also includes an urban food subsidy programme.

That’s because, increasingly, it’s households in Kenya’s rising urban population who are struggling to feed their families. In the countryside, people can at least grow some of their own crops and vegetables. But in towns and cities, the majority of people need money to access food. And as the price of staples rises, many are finding they are simply unable to earn enough to money to meet their needs. For example, in eight districts of Nairobi, an estimated 65% of residents are classed as ‘food insecure’.

A recent urban food assessment carried out by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Kenyan government found that more than a quarter of urban children were stunted. Many families were simply eating fewer and fewer meals as the costs of food rise. One single mother who earns less than 3 dollars each day for menial work told IRIN “I have made [my] children get used to skipping meals so that we can save and pay rent.”

Kenya is currently a food-deficit country, having to import supplies to satisfy demand. Some experts are calling on the country to open up barriers to trade, as well as to invest further in supporting local famers. The government has said it will subsidise seed, fertilisers and training to assist farmers to produce more crops such as tomatoes, vegetables and beans. And it has also been promoting urban and semi-urban agriculture to improve access to food among the urban poor. With estimates from the World Bank forecasting that urban dwellers will represent almost half of Kenya’s total poor by 2020, the problem looks set to be a tough one to solve.

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