UNDERSTANDING MICRO-LEVEL IMPACTS OF LAND SEGMENTATION CULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY IN KENYA
A couple of weeks ago, I had a round table discussion with a few friends over a cup of coffee. The talks were mostly around the recent pandemic, and what the future beholds. If you’ve been following the news, scientists have raised a red flag about food security globally amidst the epidemic. Indeed, there was a local shortage of greens when the pandemic first hit, but it’s safe to say, things are back to normal on eye level.
After the round table discussion, we said our goodbyes, and I called up one of my good friends, who also doubles up as Climate and Food Security scientist, Kris. I was eager to find out the food security status in Kenya, post-COVID-19. His response wasn’t what I expected, and sadly, a lot has to be done to safeguard the course of the situation. While indeed, the pandemic has brought forth particular challenges when it comes to food security, a bigger problem was already brewing in the nation’s food basket, which triggered today’s post.
So, What’s Food Security?
Food is life, and there are more than ten reasons why it’s necessary based on this study. According to the USAID, global agriculture is solely responsible for the production of ample nutrients and calories, offering health and productive lives for the entire population of the earth. Therefore, food security is the availability of food access and utilization. A particular region is considered food secure when all its occupants don’t live in hunger or have a fear of starvation.
With that in mind, is Kenya food secure? Your guess is as good as mine.
Agriculture and National Economies in LDCs
Despite the importance of agriculture in our lives, agricultural productivity is still minimal in low to middle-income countries. What’s more puzzling is that half of the world’s undernourished population and those living in absolute poverty, are small scale farmers. According to recent statistics by the World Bank, more than 70 percent of the world’s poor come from rural areas.
There are a couple of reasons why the rural population lives in poverty and is at the brink of starvation. For starters, they solely depend on agriculture which is affected by weather patterns, environmental degradation, terrorism, conflict, faulty policies, and the focus of this post, fragmentation culture.
Land Fragmentation Culture and Food Security
Land fragmentation is a situation in which an active farming household possesses a number of non-contiguous land plots, that are scattered over a large area. Most of the land segmentation in Western Kenya is done due to inheritance to relatives, parcels of land segmented to settle disputes, offered in exchange for school fees, or to pay debts.
In 1999, Nigeria produced 33 million tons of cassava, that’s about 20% of global production of the same, making Nigeria, a leading global producer. However, over the years, land fragmentation culture in Nigeria has become a major bottleneck for improving the productivity of cassava in the country.
In Kenya, the western region is considered to be the food basket of the Nation. Maize, Beans, Cassava, among other staple foods that feed the entire country are grown in the area. Land fragmentation culture in the region is slowly becoming a hindrance to food security in the country.
Mzee Juma has 10 acres of land, seven of which he inherited from his father, and three bought from his brother. The latter opted to sell his property and settle in a different region to avoid family wrangles and bring up his family in peace. Mzee Juma has five sons from two separate households, on his death bed, he divides his land equally to his sons as expected by cultural norms.
Each of his sons will pursue a different venture; some will keep the property for development; others will do small scale farming; others will sell and move to other locations like their uncle. Several years down the line, in old age, Mzee Juma’s sons will do the same with their sons, and the land will be further fragmented to even smaller chunks.
What challenges does this present?
Mzee Juma was an active Maize and Beans farmer, who significantly contributed to the region’s annual maize and beans production. After his demise, a massive chunk of the region’s output will be lost, negatively affecting the country’s food security.
Ideally, the size of landholdings steadily declines over the years due to fragmentation into parcels. This process has a significant negative effect when the packets are further fragmented into smaller chunks at the same time. South Asia also practices, cultural fragmentation, and heirs inherit equal sub-divisions of variable qualities of land from irrigated to non-irrigated parcels. Apart from the fact that the land gets smaller and smaller each time someone inherits it, this kind of cultural land fragmentation leads to the physical dispersion of the plots.
In Pakistan; the number of landholdings has significantly increased over time owing to fragmentation. It rose from 4 million in the 80s to five million by 1990. In Nepal, the number of landholdings has also significantly increased, while the plot sizes decreased by 17%. In Sir Lanka, the statistics are even worse; the average landholding size has reduced to 0.7 ha, based on a 2005 study.
Now picture this, Mzee Juma’s neighbors all come from the same ethnic community, who practice the same land fragmentation cultures. What will be the effect of the region’s food production for 100 families two generations down the line?
Empirical investigations on the impacts of land segmentation on the efficiency of agricultural production at the micro-level are still scanty in western Kenya. However, based on the studies available for regions such as Kitui (Eunice Kinya, 2011) and Embu (Kariuki Muigua, 2014), there’s a link between land fragmentation and the current low agricultural productivity in these areas.