MSEs have a significant contribution to shaping food access and consumption. Photo Credit: B. Koigi

Small businesses hold the key to affordable, healthy foods – report

By Murimi Gitari

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”A” dropcap_content=”N ESTIMATED 60 percent of rural and urban Kenyan households access their daily meals from micro and small enterprises (MSEs) at local markets”]

This is according to a report by the Scaling Micro-Businesses for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems in Kenya (SME4NutritionKE) project by Wasafiri Consulting Kenya, Village Enterprise, and Shack Dwellers International, between April 2021 and March 2023. Despite MSEs’ significant contribution to shaping food access and consumption, these enterprises have received little policy attention and support, with their role in the food systems not well understood.

As Kenya continues to face the triple burden of malnutrition – overnutrition (obesity), micronutrient deficiency, and undernutrition – the role of MSEs can no longer be overlooked.

The project, which was funded by the International Development Research Centre, sought to identify how best to support MSEs in contributing to food system transformation by providing affordable, healthy and sustainable food. It was implemented in Bungoma, Nairobi and West Pokot counties.

In most Kenyan households, the report notes, food consumption diversity is low, with people consuming just three types of foods out of a possible 20.

This is due to high food costs, low household incomes, highly seasonal availability, and weak preferences for some foods. A majority of the foods are directly related to the role of agri-food MSEs. Combined with a shift in Kenyan consumption patterns – away from traditional foods towards convenient, highly processed foods – these factors are exacerbating malnutrition.

The report argues that policy support for the MSEs is key to encouraging diet diversity and healthier food choices. Currently, MSEs face an unfavourable business environment and various challenges in sustaining their agrienterprises and providing affordable food. Issues include a lack of funding, unreliable, high costs, as well as high rates of consumer credit defaults.

“The government-led food and nutrition strategies in place have not been addressing the role of small businesses in the food system,” notes Dr. Hezekiah Agwara, Project Leader and Co-Principal Investigator at Wasafiri.

“We wanted to find out how these businesses influence food systems and identify the challenges they face, as well as the policies and interventions in place that can be adapted to help resolve those challenges.” He explained that addressing MSE challenges requires proactive interventions such as reduction or tax waivers, or food market-targeted subsidies.

“Traditional foods like millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes and cassava are highly nutritious but we have neglected them. Working with various players, both in the national and county government, we are looking at how to enhance food system productivity to boost our country’s food security using these foods,” said Susan Mang’eni, the Principal Secretary, of the State Department for MSMEs Development, Ministry of Cooperatives, at the SME4Nutrition Forum.

“How well can we innovate traditional farming practices and incorporate small businesses in the food systems?” she asked while emphasising the need for small businesses to embrace traditional foods to boost diet diversification. As a result of successful project stakeholder engagement meetings, program and policy interventions have been established for each county. For example, in Bungoma, the county and the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Bungoma Chapter – will continue convening with other actors to facilitate MSE advocacy policy, market linkages, access to training and advisory services, and information and practice sharing.

In West Pokot, Equity Afia is working with local health and nutrition stakeholders to address low household dietary diversity through interactive educational programmes in local radio stations in local languages. In Nairobi, the county is setting up a Food Liaison Advisory Group.

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