[INTERVIEW] Korea's rice helps a lot: WFP Kenya chief
According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report, which was published in July by five international organizations including the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 720 and 811 million people in the world were undernourished in 2020.
That is roughly 10 percent of the global population, and roughly 118 million more than in 2019.
Lauren Landis, Country Director for the WFP's Kenya office, told the Korea JoongAng Daily in an e-mail interview that the Korean government's donation of rice has been a huge help at a desperate time.
According to the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Korea has been providing food assistance to four countries – Yemen, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia -- since joining the Food Assistance Committee in 2018.
As of 2020, Korea was the 11th biggest donor to the WFP. This year, two more nations have received aid, Syria and Laos.
The Korean government has been donating 50,000 tons of rice per year.
Kenya is one of the top two recipients.
Landis noted the importance of swift and strong support, including helping Kenya become self-sufficient in farming.
The following are excerpts of the e-mail interview with Landis ahead of World Food Day last Saturday.
Q. How is the food situation in Kenya?
A. The government of Kenya declared drought a national disaster on Sept. 8, after two consecutive failed rainy seasons. Right now, an estimated 2.4 million Kenyans are at crisis levels of hunger, with more than 500,000 children under five, and almost 100,000 pregnant and nursing mothers in urgent need of treatment for malnutrition.
Being malnourished leads children to experience stunting, or failing to grow and develop properly. Across Kenya, one in four children has experienced stunting: and the impact in childhood is such that the children may never recover.
The hardest hit areas are in the north and east of the country, the areas that we call the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASALs). The UN is working to help around 1.3 million people in the worst affected communities, providing emergency food rations, feed for livestock and a range of other support to help recovery. Without this support, people will cope in ways that are not good for them, or their communities, in the long term. Families will regularly skip meals. Pastoralists (livestock herders), who are nearly always male, will have to travel further and further from home to find water and food for their animals. The animals may sicken and die – and people competing for increasingly scarce water supplies are more likely to engage in conflict.
Meanwhile, women, children and the elderly are left at home, often with too little to eat. Children are more likely to drop out of school as they need to work on farms or try to earn money for food. Girls are more likely to be married off early during a crisis such as drought. It is a very concerning time for rural families in Kenya right now.
Q. What are the main reasons for food insecurity in Kenya?
A. Kenya is an emerging middle-income country, but inequality is a challenge here. Many families struggle to earn a living in marginal farming areas, or move to the big cities like Mombasa or Nairobi but only find irregular work.
The biggest challenge right now is the drought. The number of severely food-insecure people right now is three times higher than it was just a year ago. And the primary driver of drought in Kenya is climate change. The country is expected to experience increasingly irregular and scarce rainy seasons, and when the rains do come, they are likely to be unpredictable and possibly damaging in their intensity.
Q. How is the Covid-19 vaccination rate in Kenya? How has Covid-19 impacted the food situation?
A. Covid-19 has obviously been a challenge everywhere. In urban areas, many people who earned a living in the informal service sectors, for example domestic staff, drivers and street vendors, lost their livelihoods when government restrictions were imposed to reduce the outbreak. With support from the governments of the United States and Finland, the WFP provided cash transfers to nearly 400,000 people in urban areas to help them buy food to eat. This program was a useful supplement to the government of Kenya’s measures, and represented the first time the WFP had helped in urban areas, outside of school meals settings. In Kenya today, the vaccination rate is lower than in many other countries, but rising fast, and moderate restrictions are in place.
Q. What is Korea's contribution to the WFP operation in Kenya? How many are benefitting?
Q. What other kind of support can you use from Korea? How can Koreans help?
A. In recent years, the generosity of the Korean government has also supported the WFP’s life-changing resilience work. This is an exciting, evolving field of work for the WFP: instead of handing out food aid, we support farming communities to switch to drought-resistant crops that are also highly nutritious. We support them with irrigation systems and equipment to harvest, store and process the food safely. And we help them find customers for their produce. People benefit from improved incomes, better nutrition and health, and they are better placed to withstand the next drought. So far in Kenya in 2020-2021, we’ve helped 64,000 smallholder farmers with support to sell 29,000 tons of produce valued at $ 8.6 million. We’ve helped protect more than 2,000 hectares of cultivated land with both soil and water conservation measures, and provided 7,100 tree seedlings to combat desertification and land degradation.
Korean readers can directly support the WFP’s work by downloading the Share the Meal donation app. For just 950 won (80 cents), the World Food Programme can feed one child for one day.
Q. The food crisis in East Africa may affect global food insecurity in long term. What are some challenges if the international community does not engage soon?
With hunger, early action saves lives and saves money. In some areas, crop production is down by up to 70 to 90 percent. There are increasing signs that the next rainy season will also be poor. When a child or pregnant woman goes from being moderately malnourished to acutely malnourished, the cost of treating them increases three to four times. Helping people protect their livelihoods, with infrastructure for water, is far more effective than waiting for disaster to strike. Every dollar invested in preventative measures saves up to $2.80 in treatment and aid costs later.
Q. It's not easy for people in developed countries to understand the connection between food crises and climate change. Could you explain?
A. For a farming based economy like Kenya, the linkage is very straightforward: when it doesn’t rain, crops fail to grow and animals sicken or die. When it floods, crops are destroyed. Without enough to eat, people become dependent on food aid. The WFP is committed to treating the root causes of this kind of hunger by helping farmers adopt climate smart farming practices that provide both nutritious food and an insurance policy against drought. Speaking of which, we also provide them with actual crop insurance: farmers are receiving payouts after losing their crops that will help them to replant once the drought breaks.
Q. Any messages for Korean readers as the head of all WFP operations in Kenya?
A. We can’t directly prevent drought in Kenya, but we can prevent it causing widespread suffering. We really appreciate the interest of the Korean people in our work, especially at this time of World Food Day.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]