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Kenya Fellow

Joy Muya

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Waste not, want not; using food surplus to address Kenya’s food insecurity challenges

Horticulture Fellow Joy Muya wants to live in a world where nobody goes to bed hungry. She believes that Kenya’s persistent food insecurity is not always a result of shortfalls in production; most of the problem lies with how food is handled, distributed and consumed. That is why as some people suffer hunger and malnutrition, others, sometimes within the same neighbourhood, have surplus food that frequently ends up in landfills, contributing to food insecurity and greenhouse gas emissions. In this interview, Joy tells us how she is using her legal training to right this disparity and create circularity in the Kenyan food system.

Surplus tomatoes donated by small scale farmers ready for distribution. PHOTO © THE GLOBAL FOOD BANKING NETWORK/BRIAN OTIENO
  • Who is Joy, the food systems leader?

I am a lawyer who is leveraging my legal background to drive transformative change within food systems. I am cultivating an enabling environment to reduce food loss and waste. This involves examining existing policies and legal frameworks and making recommendations to fix barriers  contributing to food loss and waste.

I don’t work alone. In order to adequately address the challenge, we need to establish robust governance and institutional frameworks to regulate, support and coordinate stakeholders and actors within the food system. This comprises initiatives such as policy coordination and integration, institutional capacity building, stakeholder engagement, and the enactment of laws that promote accountability and transparency in food systems governance. I actively engage with these different sectors to foster a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient food system.

  • What does a typical day in your life at Food Banking Kenya look like?

Food Banking Kenya (FBK) is a food recovery organisation engaged in redirecting surplus food from farmers, suppliers and retailers to vulnerable groups and individuals. We collect surplus food that is fit for consumption and give it to those who need it the most. I work behind the scenes to ensure that this process is seamless. I provide legal advice on a variety of matters, including contractual agreements, compliance issues, risk management, and regulatory requirements. I work closely with FBK’s management team to ensure that our activities are conducted in accordance with the legal standards.

Additionally, I work with the communications department to develop strategies for effective communication with external stakeholders of the food bank. Creating awareness about food systems solutions forms a major part of what I do and cannot be achieved without collaboration with the food bank staff, partners, donors, and beneficiaries.

  • What food systems action are you currently working on and what problem is it solving?

One of the most persistent problems in the food supply chain is food waste, which contributes greatly to widespread food insecurity. Kenya faces significant food insecurity challenges, with the number of undernourished people reported at 14.7 million by the end of 2022, and prevalence rates of moderate to severe food insecurity reaching 72.3%. At the same time, Kenya records substantial food loss and waste of perfectly edible food at different levels of the food supply chain. Reducing food loss and waste from production to consumption is therefore essential to improve food security.

A powerful strategy to address this problem is recovering and redirecting surplus food to the people suffering hunger and malnutrition. To achieve this, I am working to strengthen legal and policy frameworks for food donation and redistribution.

  • What are some of the milestones you are most proud of?

Through Food Banking Kenya, I have contributed to the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas developed by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Global Food Banking Network. The Kenya Atlas provides a legal guide on laws on donation in Kenya, together with recommendations for laws that better promote donation and redistribution of food. Additionally, I am currently collaborating with the Retail Trade Association of Kenya (RETRAK) and the World Resource institute (WRI), among other stakeholders, to lobby for policy development and legislative reform in respect to food donation and redistribution in Kenya geared towards reducing food waste.

Some of the recommendations we are working to implement include food safety laws for donated food, including laws that allow the donation of food beyond the quality-based date i.e., ‘best before’, but is nonetheless fit for consumption; and ‘good Samaritan’ laws that protect food donors and food recovery organisations from liability under qualified circumstances.

  • What is one key decision that food producers, distributors, and consumers each can make today that would reduce food waste and food loss?

Consumer preferences significantly shape the food market, influencing demand for specific food products or standards. These preferences, coupled with purchasing behaviour, determine which products thrive in the market. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with having food preferences or expecting high standards for available food, some preferences stem from misinformation or aggressive marketing, leading to undesirable outcomes such as the demand for cosmetically perfect food. For example, a banana does not have to be blemish-free for you to buy and eat it. Unfortunately, this often results in food loss and waste, even for perfectly healthy food that is fit for consumption.

Addressing this issue requires consumer awareness for informed decision-making. Producers can play a pivotal role by disseminating widespread information about the inherent quality and nutritional value of food products, even those deemed “imperfect” or “ugly,” emphasizing their safety and nutritional benefits. Distributors also have a responsibility to destigmatize misconceptions surrounding imperfect produce by actively marketing and selling these items alongside their cosmetically perfect counterparts. Simultaneously, consumers should be encouraged to embrace imperfect produce through educational campaigns, highlighting the importance of reducing food waste and supporting conscious and mindful consumption for sustainability.

By addressing misconceptions about cosmetic specifications and promoting the value of all edible food, stakeholders can collaborate to foster information symmetry, leading to reduced food waste and enhanced food security. Additionally, consumer awareness would support sustainable agricultural practices and increased profitability for producers and distributors, building towards a more sustainable food system overall.

  • What is your one big prediction for food systems for 2024?

My one big prediction is that there will be greater emphasis on data analytics by the Government of Kenya to optimise supply chain management, reduce food loss and waste and enhance market access and profit margins for small-scale farmers. We have already seen a strong push in favour of data collection through launch of the Kenya Integrated Agriculture Management Information System (KIAMIS), a government-driven digital platform that seeks to facilitate farmer registration and establish a national central farmers’ database.

Additionally in 2023, the Government of Kenya renewed its collaboration with FAO for the Monitoring and Analysis Food and Agriculture Policies (MAFAP) programme, which seeks to monitor, prioritise and reform policies and investments in food and agriculture to support implementation of Kenya’s Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) being spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

This is a clear indication that centralized data collection and analytics will be a driving feature in the Kenya food industry, seeking to understand patterns, priorities, and bottlenecks of the food system at national and county levels. This presents a great opportunity for all stakeholders to coordinate with the government in transforming the food system by leveraging data-driven insights to inform policymaking and interventions that address specific challenges and improve the overall efficiency, resilience and inclusivity of the food system, considering that a lack of uniform and centralized data has been one of the limitations facing food systems transformation in Kenya.  

  • Looking back at your journey as a food systems leader, what would you do differently?

Right from the start, I would collaborate more with others working on different aspects of the same issue I am addressing. I would double down on investing more of my time, energy, and efforts towards advocating for inclusive and sustainable food systems transformation. I recognize the immense impact that concerted and dedicated action can have in driving meaningful change within the food system. Therefore, I would prioritize working with local communities and key stakeholders, for example, to advocate for policy reforms that prioritize food security and social equity.

  • How is the African Food Fellowship setting you up for success as a food systems leader?

My time at the Fellowship has helped me to broaden my scope on what acting systemically means. Through engagement with facilitators, guest speakers and other Fellows I have been exposed to diverse perspectives, providing a wider yet more detailed view of the many facets that make up food systems.  This is the inherent complexity of the food system. I now better understand different challenges faced by different stakeholders based on different circumstances, and how law and policy can be applied to shape the future of food towards a food secure reality.

Additionally, African Food Fellowship has equipped me with important tools and methodologies for analysing and approaching food systems transformation. The Fellowship has encouraged a methodological approach to thinking about food systems, emphasizing the importance of evidence-based decision-making, interdisciplinary collaboration, systems mapping and stakeholder engagement.