Bartering may boost food supply for rural Kenyans
The age-old practice of bartering – trading goods without exchanging money – may provide a better return for Kenya's rural poor.
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A report by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) indicates that more than 10 million Kenyans suffer from food insecurity, with the majority of them relying on food relief.Skip to next paragraph
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Rural and urban households are also incurring huge food bills due to high prices, says the report, while staple food is in short supply.
KARI links food insecurity to frequent droughts, high input costs for domestic food production, and land tenure insecurity, which is displacing farmers in areas with the greatest potential for growing crops.
“The high global food prices and low purchasing power by a large proportion of the population, due to high levels of poverty, means there is need to have infrastructure that protects the rural food chain,” says Ephraim Mukisira, KARI’s director, referring to bartering networks.
Some experts see bartering as a way to enhance food security while ensuring that traditional staple foods remain within the rural food chain.
“There is nothing wrong with barter trade because people trade for commodities they desire,” agrees Ronald Sibanda, the World Food Programme’s representative and country director. “It is important to encourage consumption of traditional foods because they are nutritious.”
But the FAO’s Ms. Kimani calls for wider consumer education as well.
“There is a need to establish a balance between barter trade and the rural cash economy,” she says.
John Kabiro, a trader in Nairobi’s Gikomba market, one of the busiest in the city, argues that bartering does not help social development because it undermines cash-flow systems.
According to Mr. Kabiro, bartering would work better if the government subsidized rural Kenya with social services such as education and health, since these tend to drain households’ income stream.
“Barter trade is the last thing on my mind since it does not give me money,” Kabiro says. “I do not see it working since everyone is after wealth creation.”
In October, Africa observed Food and Nutrition Security Day. As governments ponder steps to reduce food insecurity, it remains to be seen whether Kabiro’s approach or Wambui’s will prove most helpful in ensuring enough affordable food is available.
• Kagondu Njagi is an environmental writer based in Nairobi.
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