Kenyatta Urges Corporates to Take on Food Production, Conservation

21 September 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged private-sector players to lead innovation that can help the world balance the need for food sufficiency and conserving the environment.

In a speech to a UN event on Monday evening, President Kenyatta argued that pressure to provide sufficient food may be fuelling poor habits on conservation, such as continuing use of fossil fuels, which are top contributors to climate change.

But he said investors could be useful as they can focus on technology that uses less fossil energy and produces less waste.

"Global food systems, sustainable energy production and climate change are all intertwined," he told an audience during a keynote address to the virtual UN Global Compact's Private Sector forum on food systems.

"On one hand, food production is highly vulnerable to climate change. At the same time, production of food is energy-intensive. About 30 per cent of global energy demand is associated with food production and the consumption process."

Innovative pathways

The Kenyan leader argued that private-sector players must join in "to advance innovative pathways to achieve sustainable food and energy production and consumption".

The President spoke during a side-lines event of the ongoing 76th session of the UN General Assembly that has taken on a hybrid format: physically in New York and virtually around the world.

The UN Global Compact is a voluntary initiative by corporate chiefs from 162 countries who are members of the UN to drive sustainability. It is part of the global effort to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, 17 targets the UN agreed on to be achieved by 2030.

Companies including Safaricom, Nation Media Group, EABL and KCB are among 44 firms from Kenya that joined the world to vow support for principles of human rights, follow universal labour laws, conserve the environment and support the fight against corruption.

One of the SDGs is for the world to eliminate hunger and end malnutrition by 2030, something countries including Kenya are struggling to achieve.

National disaster

Kenya recently declared drought a national disaster, signalling another round of hunger with at least 1.4 million people facing food shortages.

Globally, about 700 million people are undernourished while at least 500 million are food-insecure, according to UN figures, most of them in Africa.

"We need to harness the private sector to address the challenge of the global food systems and also sustainable energy production," President Kenyatta said.

In Africa, most of those without food are also without access to electricity and use what the President described as unclean sources of energy for cooking.

Dirty energy sources like charcoal contribute about 75 per cent of greenhouse emissions, which contribute to global warming, the accelerator of climate change.

At the UN, the 76th session has focused largely on climate change and its attendant problems for the world.

Covid-19 pandemic

However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had earlier told an audience that the world must address the immediate problem of the Covid-19 pandemic, which he argued had slowed or reversed countries' progress towards SDGs.

"We need to get down to the business of a sustainable and equitable recovery for all, so that we stay on track to end poverty by 2030. This means making bold investments in systems that support human development - from education and universal social protection to health care and jobs," he said.

"The business community, governments and civil societies must urgently and ambitiously work together to pursue green recovery from the pandemic."

In general, leaders said recovery from the pandemic, including vaccine equity, will be key to resuming the journey to SDGs.

President Kenyatta said Kenya had made progress with some of the goals, including improving gender quotas for women, updating laws on environmental conservation, regulating financial flows and fighting graft.

But he admitted SDGs in general will require a "rethink" especially after the pandemic, as well as seeking sustainable financial resources.

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