Nairobi — An agronomist has urged the government to raise taxes on sugar and related products as a strategy to address the rising obesity rates in the country.
Robert Mwadime, the Chief Party of Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems (KCDMS) notes that the move would encourage people to shift towards consuming indigenous foods, thereby promoting healthier diets and improving overall public health in the nation.
"Obesity is a time bomb in this country and Kenyans eating patterns and preferences have gone pathetic. I believe it is high time that the country holds the dialogue to change that," he said.
Mwadime spoke on Thursday ahead of the National Dialogue on Agri-Food Systems, scheduled for September 13 - 14, 2023, with a particular focus on indigenous foods in Kenya.
Kenya's array of healthier indigenous foods includes millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, and green grams, among others.
Based on the 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), 17 percent of women and 4 percent of men are reported as obese.
The survey, released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), also revealed that the majority of obesity cases are concentrated in urban areas, where five out of ten women aged between 20 - 49 are obese, compared to three out of ten in rural areas.
Among urban men, two out of ten are overweight, while 14 percent of rural men fall into this category.
Mwadime attributed the statistics findings to poor dietary habits, emphasizing that many affected individuals tend to rely heavily on wheat products while neglecting the country's readily affordable, nutritious, and healthy indigenous foods.
"We cannot be eating the same way or else food in this country is going to be a security issue," he said.
- Indigenous foods dialogue -
Mwadime emphasized that food possesses significant influence and should be the focal point of a purposeful and earnest discussion regarding how to educate the population about healthier indigenous foods, which he regretfully noted, despite their affordability, are under-consumed.
He speculated that there might be a deliberate tactic by certain unnamed individuals to promote wheat products and maize flour to the detriment of the health of Kenyans.
In response, he stressed the need for "the right questions to be raised" and appropriate actions to be implemented.
"It is unfortunate that people in Kenya cannot go without ugali and yet when their prices go up it becomes a serious issue. The same people either by default or design forget that Kenya is home to other indigenous foods that are affordable. That is why we need to have a dialogue," he said.
To encourage the long-term consumption of indigenous foods in the country, Mwadime suggested the implementation of deliberate legislation that advocates for their intake.
He argued this would significantly boost their adoption and contribute to a healthier nation.
- Indigenous foods dialogue agenda -
The upcoming two-day National Dialogue aims to bring together various stakeholders from the private sector, government, civil society, and academia.
They will collaborate to devise strategies for increasing the consumption of affordable and safe indigenous foods, thereby promoting healthier diets in the country.
One of the primary goals of this summit is to define what constitutes the country's indigenous foods and how to catalyze a sustainable and inclusive transformation system that enhances food security and climate resilience.
Another crucial objective of the summit is to raise public awareness about the role of indigenous foods as sources of safe, nutrient-rich, and healthy diets.
Additionally, it will highlight how these foods can contribute to reducing the burden of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The dialogue's theme revolves around three key areas: enhancing sustainable and inclusive production of affordable, safe, diverse, and nutritious indigenous foods, promoting their consumption, and accelerating private sector involvement in this endeavor.