Tackling Food Insecurity for Kenya’s Unseen Population

an interview with Dr. Luchetu Likaka – Published on Nourishing the Planet, by Emily Gilbert, December 30, 2011.

… What are some of the difficulties being faced by the elderly and ageing populations in Kenya?

  • Older persons in Kenya face a number of challenges: lack of adequate food, lack of income, poor access to health care, inadequate shelter, among others. Older person’s challenges are further compounded by their second parenting roles for HIV/AIDS orphans. This poses wider problems since they themselves require care and support.  
  • According to the 2010 National Population and Housing Census Report, the population of persons aged 60 years and above was about 1.5 million, representing 4 percent of the total population. According to the demographic projections, it is expected to reach over 2 million by the year 2020. In terms of socio-cultural profiles, various communities in Kenya differ in their treatment of older persons. While some communities revere old age and where older persons make strategic decisions, a few do not regard old age in the same esteem. The socio-cultural attitudes held by the society, the socialization processes and older people’s perception of their own status, roles and rights are of particular significance in determining the status of older persons within the society. In rural areas, for instance, older persons are left behind without traditional family support and financial resources. Older women are the majority in rural areas and are the most disadvantaged as they have little or no control over economic resources and are disempowered by traditional practices. Policies and programmes for rural development, food security and agricultural production do not take into account the implications of this ageing rural population.
  • On the other hand, in urban areas, many older persons are crowded in slum areas. Urban development policies and programmes rarely to targets the interests and needs of these older persons. As population continues to expand, the number of dependants continues to rise. The demand created by a large dependant population; the young and older persons particularly in terms of health, education and employment presents a major challenge. In the 1990s population growth rate outstripped economic growth rate resulting to continued deterioration in the standard of living among the majority of Kenyans. The challenge now is to reverse this trend so that Kenyans, especially the vulnerable and marginalized elderly, can enjoy higher standards of living. This gave rise to founding of Centre for Ageing and Rural Development, Kenya (CARD-K).

HIV/AIDS has had a significant toll on the changing social fabric in Kenya.  What are other factors contributing to this?

  • The deteriorating economic conditions and HIV/AIDS pandemic have led to the increase in the number of children in need of care and the unprecedented involvement of the elderly in caretaking responsibilities. Poverty is often seen as the main factor leading to risky behaviors that expose socially and economically marginalized groups to risk of HIV infection, reducing the capacity of such households to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS.
  • The main cause of poverty is the lack of access to resources and assets. Land is the most important asset for the rural poor as most rural communities depend on it for their livelihoods. Furthermore, there are pronounced rural-urban disparities in economic development with subsequent extreme income inequalities between the rural and urban communities. In addition, gender disparities in income distribution, particularly with ownership and access to productive assets, continue to negatively impact poverty rates among women. Poverty rates among women continue to increase with age. The situation is further exacerbated by the overall income inequality in the society.
  • Traditional family and community structures included in-built support and welfare systems that catered for all members of society. The role of older persons traditionally included leadership, guidance and advice. In return, they were assured of total support from the family and community. Although family and community remain the most effective and important institutions in caring for older persons, their effectiveness is under pressure.
  • Food security and nutrition are critical factors affecting the lives of older persons.  Good nutrition in childhood and throughout life affects health and nutritional status in older years.  In rural areas, older persons, in particular older women, produce food for their own consumption and sell any surpluses for income. However, food production, consumption, and marketing programs usually exclude older persons. Very little is known about the nutrition situation and needs of the older persons.

Do you feel that these issues are receiving attention from the Kenyan government? If not, why?

  • These issues have received very little attention from the government and that is why we formed CARD-Kenya, to raise the voice and advocate on issues affecting the elderly. This has included advocating in national strategic plans, policies and guidelines, promoting research on ageing and rural development, and engaging civil society, government, public and private sector to include the elderly in the policies and programs for sustainable and equitable development.

How will addressing the needs of the elderly, or giving this group a voice, improve food security and sovereignty?

  • Food is a basic human need that affects people’s quality of life and their ability to contribute socially and economically to the family and community. In Kenya, it is a fact that very little is known about specific nutritional and food needs of older people. In times of food shortages, which are a perennial problem in Kenya, older people often suffer food deprivation and are discriminated against in intra-household food distribution patterns. We are working to give the elderly a voice on matters of food.

How does your organization focus its work on issues like food security to ensure that the elderly are represented?

… (full interview text).

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