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Small businesses in food systems hold the key to affordable and healthy foods, report

Nairobi, Kenya. July 28, 2023: A recent report has shed light on the crucial role of micro/small enterprises (MSEs) in providing affordable and healthy food options to an estimated 60 per cent of rural and urban Kenyan households. Despite their significant contribution to shaping food access and consumption, these MSEs have been largely overlooked in policy discussions, leaving their potential untapped in transforming the country’s food systems.

The report, titled “Scaling Micro-businesses for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems in Kenya (SME4NutritionKE),” was carried out by a collaborative effort between Wasafiri Consulting Kenya, Village Enterprise, and Shack Dwellers International. The project, funded by the International Development Research Centre and conducted between April 2021 and March 2023, focused on Bungoma, Nairobi, and West Pokot counties.

With Kenya facing a ‘triple burden’ of malnutrition, including overnutrition (obesity), micronutrient deficiency, and undernutrition, the role of MSEs has become increasingly critical. The report highlighted that many Kenyan households have limited food consumption diversity, often restricted to just three types of foods out of a possible 20. Factors such as high food costs, low household incomes, seasonal availability, and weak preferences for nutritious foods have been linked to the influence of agri-food MSEs. Additionally, the shift in consumer preferences towards processed foods is exacerbating the issue of malnutrition.

To address these challenges and promote greater diet diversity, the report advocates for increased policy support for MSEs to offer a wider choice of affordable and healthy food options. Currently, MSEs face multiple obstacles, including a lack of working capital and financial support, unreliable supplies, high operational costs, and payment defaults when offering credit to customers.

Dr. Hezekiah Agwara, Project Leader and Co-Principal Investigator for Wasafiri, emphasized the need for government-led strategies that recognize the vital role of small businesses in the food system. He presented the research findings at the SME4Nutrition National Stakeholders’ Forum in Nairobi, where discussions focused on maximizing the contribution of MSEs to the food system space.

Among the report’s recommendations are proactive interventions such as reducing or waiving business taxes and implementing food market-targeted subsidies. It also suggests encouraging MSEs to form associations to advocate for their interests at the national level.

Susan Mang’eni, the Principal Secretary, State Department for MSMEs Development, Ministry of Cooperatives, expressed the government’s commitment to enhancing food system productivity by promoting traditional foods like millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava. She stressed the need to involve small businesses in adopting traditional farming practices to boost diet diversification.

Participants at the SME4Nutrition National Stakeholders’ Forum, held in Nairobi.

The project’s stakeholder engagement meetings resulted in program and policy interventions tailored for each county. For instance, Bungoma County is collaborating with The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Bungoma Chapter – to facilitate MSE advocacy policy, market linkages, and access to training and advisory services. In West Pokot, Equity Afia medical center is partnering with local health and nutrition stakeholders to address low household dietary diversity through interactive educational programs on local radio stations. Meanwhile, Nairobi County is establishing a Food Liaison Advisory Group to represent the voices of various food system actors and advise decision-makers on sustainable food system planning.

By providing financial support to MSEs and enabling their growth, these interventions aim to increase the availability of affordable and nutritious food in the market, ultimately promoting better nutrition and healthier food choices among consumers.

Contact: Dr. Hezekiah Agwara Project Leader, Wasafiri Consulting Kenya Email: hezekiah.agwara@wasafiri.org Phone: +254-xxx-xxx-xxx

Website: www.sme4nutrition.ke

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