Advancing Food Systems Transformation in Kenya

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In a complicated and uncertain world, identifying strategies for building policy coherence and responding to crises is an increasingly urgent task. On 17 May 2022, ILRI Nairobi hosted the Kenya launch and inception meeting of National Policies and Strategies for Food, Land, and Water Systems Transformation (NPS), a new One CGIAR initiative working in six countries. Featuring a high-level panel of guests from a diverse range of Kenyan national and county-level institutions, as well as the global director for systems transformation and director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Johan Swinnen and director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jimmy Smith, participants discussed key policy issues, including responding to current crises ranging from drought and rising food, fertilizer and energy prices to tackling livelihood insecurity and poverty.

NPS seeks to deliver results in five key impact areas, bringing together local institutions, researchers, policymakers and policy implementers to deliver three key outcome goals—building coherence, responding to crises and integrating policy tools. The initiative will start with a focus on the ‘three Cs’ of climate change, conflict and the impact of COVID-19, explained Swinnen.

Graphic Credits: Jason Chow/IFPRI

Harry Kimtai, Principal Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives, expressed how pleased he was with ‘continued collaboration with CGIAR to address major challenges in the country’.

On policy coherence, a central theme of NPS, Alan Nicol, co-lead of the initiative stated: ‘It’s thinking systematically about the nature of a policy problem, how to tackle it, and how to deal with the issues surrounding institutional complexities or the way people function within an institution.’ This approach requires addressing barriers to effective decision-making, convening the right actors, and empowering them to make clear and effective decisions in response to crises.

But it is also about combining the strengths of all actors involved in the process. ‘We need to link up agriculture with other sectors that can enable us in this transformation’, said Smith, emphasizing the role that linkages and collaboration must play in systems transformation.

Executive director of the Kenyan Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), Rose Ngugi, stated that in the past, decisions were taken and strategies developed without a sound evidence base, and she referred to the importance of data and knowledge sharing across sectors. ‘With evidence, you’re able to see emerging issues, and identify where synergies are necessary across sectors.’ From a research and data perspective, she hoped to see greater collaboration between researchers and policymakers.

‘You cannot have coherent policy processes if you don’t have a clear framework of analysis’, she said, underscoring the need for analytical tools as well.

A key complement to policy coherence is the production and integration of user-friendly policy and investment tools at national and sub-national levels. In an effort to build coherence across One CGIAR initiatives, many of the initiatives presented their key policy components and tools in Kenya. These initiative tools included innovation packages and climate adaptation instruments to inform future sustainable investment strategies and build capacity to improve the use and uptake of policy and investment instruments.

Building on her previous comments, Ngugi noted that ‘our continued unpreparedness for climate impacts’ has demonstrated the need for integrating policy tools that can generate data and foster an evidence-based policy environment. ‘This is crucial to ensure that policy systems achieve their intended outcomes’, she stated.

Through building policy coherence and integrating policy tools at different levels, NPS will help support better crisis responses. Mentioned repeatedly during the launch, the ongoing drought in northern Kenya has left nearly 3.5 million people facing hunger and revealed a gap in response strategies. The NPS initiative will develop rapid response tools to such crises and support ‘communities of policy practice’ to bring together experts and decision-makers around the identification and implementation of solutions.

‘Learning lessons from decades of CGIAR policy research, capacity building and policy communications, the initiative includes several innovative features focused on impact’, said NPS lead Clemens Breisinger. This includes a policy dashboard that will improve coherence across One CGIAR centres and national policies and ministries. Additionally, the ‘training the trainer’ approach and simplified policy analysis tools, combined with the rapid response teams and communities of policy practice, ‘are among the promising new features of NPS’, explained Breisinger.

By building policy coherence and integrating user-friendly policy tools, the initiative will help bring diverse groups together and support more effective policy responses to a broad range of development challenges. ‘The bottom line in all of this is ensuring better outcomes for beneficiaries—the poor smallholder farmers and the pastoralists struggling under climate change’, said Nicol.

Collaboration became another central theme of the launch event. ‘In the past, the CGIAR and African development organizations were mostly working separately’, said Wilson Songa, an executive board member of the Agriculture Sector Network (ASNet). This fragmentation made it difficult to generate solutions to country-level challenges. Songa was hopeful that ‘the NPS initiative will create stronger partnerships between the CGIAR and Kenyan institutions’.

Ultimately, by bringing together a variety of Kenyan stakeholders and other One CGIAR initiatives, the NPS launch supported a process of unifying CGIAR and Kenyan partners in an effort to tackle pressing development issues. Moving forward, NPS will continue to build and strengthen future partnerships. ‘We had very good participation from Kenyan stakeholders at the county and national government levels’, said Nicol after the event. This reflects a wider One CGIAR goal—to establish ‘a new era of interconnected and partnership-driven research towards achieving the SDGs’.

‘And the work has already begun’, said Breisinger. ‘NPS is currently setting up a rapid response team to analyze the impacts of the Ukraine and global crisis on food systems and poverty in Kenya. We’ll share the results of this collaborative effort in the first edition of the NPS Kenya seminar series in June.’

The Kenya launch was the first step in a much longer journey, but it provided key direction for the NPS initiative, which seeks to support Kenya’s development and resilience to future shocks and crises.

Click here to watch an interview with some of the NPS launch’s key participants.

For more information, click here to view the NPS launch proceedings page.

This article was co-authored by Elliot Carleton (ILRI), Brenda Coromina (ILRI), Alan Nicol (IWMI), Clemens Breisinger (IFPRI), Charlotte Hebebrand (IFPRI) and Yumna Kassim (IFPRI).

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