How KNBS Can Harness Big Data to Achieve Food Security

On 13th of February 2019, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the principal government agency for collecting, analyzing and disseminating statistical data, released its inaugural Gross County Product (GCP) report. The report provided a breakdown of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into estimates of size and structure of county economies. Since this was disaggregation of data, the total sum from the counties equaled the national GDP.  This has been done before on the basis of sectors but for the first time the agency used the administrative units created by the 2010 constitution.

Although the debate elicited from the report was about the size of the economies especially the fact that Nairobi City contributes almost 25% of the GDP followed by Nakuru and Kiambu counties at 6.1% and 5.5%, my interest was in the structure. I was particularly interested to know how much each county contributes to the backbone of our economy and the largest employer-agriculture. With the exception of Nairobi city and Mombasa counties, agriculture is the main economic driver in most of the counties. Among the counties with huge agricultural potential were Nakuru, Nyandarua, Kiambu and Elgeyo Marakwet. Others were Meru, Narok, Bomet and Bungoma counties. The report also noted agricultural activities are low in Kisumu, Kajiado, Isiolo and Machakos.

I believe KNBS is among the best government statistics agency in the region, however, they could do more do more providing data necessary to solve challenges like food security and nutrition. We are in an era of big data which is essential for evidence based decisions. Although the agency releases monthly data sets that also indicate levels of inflation, more real time data could be useful. For instance, the production and or supply of a certain product like milk in Kisumu County.

KNBS needs to improve on up to date data sets to show which agricultural product is in demand in specific areas and factors behind it. They could start with basic agricultural commodities to form an aggregate basket that will give a picture of the food situation in the counties. This will help county governments come up with better development plans. It will also provide useful and readily available information to various stakeholders along the food systems for quality decision making. This will go a long way in solving the logistical problem of hunger whereby there could be surplus food going into waste in Nyandarua County yet people could be suffering from shortage in Turkana or Baringo.

It was interesting to note Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Mwangi Kiunjuri, defending egg imports from Uganda saying that there are parts of the country with shortages. I wish he would have provided data to support this claim. There could be genuine shortages in some parts of the country which can be supplemented by surplus from other areas locally. Of great importance would be to develop policies that lower our cost of inputs. This would make farming more profitable, make it attractive to more people, meet our food security needs and make our products competitive in regional markets.

The government cannot produce food for its population. But it can support farmers and other players in the food system to make better decisions through availing quality data. Being one of countries with the highest mobile phone penetration in Africa could be crucial in disseminating it as we move towards zero hunger.

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