Agriculture Pivotal in Curbing Climate Change

climate change

French foreign minister and president-designate of COP21 Laurent Fabius (centre), raises hands with UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and French president François Hollande. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images (obtained from The Guardian)

After two weeks of intense negotiations between the 200 member countries at the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris, an agreement on the way forward in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was reached. This ‘Paris Agreement’ has been lauded as ‘historic’, ‘the world’s greatest diplomatic success’ among many other superlatives.

In essence, the agreement marks the beginning of completely doing away with fossil fuels, keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F), developed countries sending $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts beginning in 2020 with the aim of helping the recipient countries adapt to the effects of climate change, all member countries reporting transparently on their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them. In reaching this agreement, credit has to be given to the small island states which were pivotal in the formation of the “coalition of high ambition” that led to the final agreement.

However, in order to reach these goals, it is imperative to consider the contribution of Agriculture to global warming. While fossil fuels (and industrial processes) account for 65% of GHG emissions making it the largest contributor, agriculture accounts for 24% (including forestry and other land uses) when analysed by economic sector thus making it the 2nd largest contributing sector after electricity and heat production which accounts for 25%.

global_emissions_gas_2015global_emissions_sector_2015

Source: IPCC (2014);  based on global emissions from 2010. Details about the sources included in these estimates can be found in the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Of Agriculture’s contribution, livestock through the emission of methane and nitrous oxide accounts for 14.5 %. Of course the major livestock contributor is cattle, whether kept for dairy or meat, which accounts for 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions followed by followed by pig meat, (9 percent of emissions), buffalo milk and meat (8 percent), chicken meat and eggs (8 percent), and small ruminant milk and meat (6 percent). The remaining emissions are sourced to other poultry species and non-edible products.

What then does this mean for reduction of GHG emissions at the country level?

While for some countries fossil fuels accounts for a major proportion of GHG emissions, for others, it is agriculture that drives and is most burdened by GHG emissions.

For instance, in Ethiopia, livestock and crop cultivation are estimated to be responsible for more than half of total 39 emissions as of 2010. The share grows to around 85 percent of emissions when forestry is included. India produces the world’s second-largest volume of agricultural emissions, after China. Brazil comes third. Thus it is crucial for these countries to align their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to focus on agriculture. Some have done so, for example Brazil aims to restore 15 million hectares of degraded pasturelands and to enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock/forestry systems by 2030. It also commits to strengthening South-South cooperation in low-carbon, resilient agriculture and reforestation activities.

The linkages between Agriculture and Nutrition have been proven sufficiently; strong linkage exists between the two. As countries aim to give a positive report five years from now, it is prudent for the bearers of this noble task to keep in mind the relationship between the two.

 

NB: For more information Climate Change (and agriculture), follow the links below

Why cop21 is important to zero hunger

Climate-Smart Agriculture is key to ending hunger

Agriculture in the COP21 Agenda

Global Gas Greenhouse Emissions Data

Livestock’s contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

NB: As developing countries aim to generate much needed energy, it is crucial to focus more on renewable energy such as wind and solar as opposed to coal mining which my dear Kenya seems intent to jump into with little regard for its consequences.

 

How to feed your child in the first year of life; for all mothers, especially first time mothers

I am a nutritionist in a children’s hospital. Hence, part of my job description entails giving sound advice on infant and young child feeding to mothers, especially first time mothers. While most mothers  know what to feed the child and what not to, for a few, this business is a groping in the dark-a trial here and there while hoping that everything works out fine. I have never really appreciated the sacrifices mothers make until I started interacting with them as a nutritionist. I have come across mothers whose children were born prematurely; some have cerebral palsy; others with very low birth weights; iron deficiency anaemia; chronic constipation and a myriad of other conditions. Yet in all these situations, the mothers’ love for their child was not quenched. On the contrary, it seemed to ignite that tender loving that only a mother can give. Many have taken time off their work to take care of their children. And in cases of say, cerebral palsy, others have quit their careers altogether. It is because of this that any help extended to mothers is very much welcome and might offer some consolation for their enduring sacrifices. This is my help to them.

Birth-6 months

Mother’s milk is best for the baby. It is essentially for this reason why as nutritionists we advocate for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years. Exclusive breastfeeding means giving only breast milk, and no other foods or fluids, not even water. (Medicines and vitamins not diluted with water may be given, if medically indicated.). Breast milk provides all the nutrients and fluid requirements that the child needs for the first six months. Furthermore, it offers protection against common childhood diseases particularly diarrhoea, chest and ear Infections. This is especially so when taken during the first hour of life. Breast milk is much superior to formula milk in many ways. To begin with, it does not require rigorous hygiene measurements as providing formula milk. Risk of infection with poor handling of feeding bottles is very high in formula milk provision. Secondly, it is more easily digested than formula milk. In addition, breastfed children have been found to have better life outcomes than non-breastfed children. This is because breast milk contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain fatty acid that is essential for infant brain and eye development.

Quite often, I have heard mothers complain they do not have enough milk. This is not the actual case. Milk flow is dependent on the baby suckling. The longer the child suckles, the more the milk will be produced and let down. If the baby suckles less, for example because other fluids or foods are given, the mother will produce less milk.

It is not advisable to introduce cow’s milk until the child is one year old. This is because cow’s milk has higher protein content and the child’s kidneys have not developed enough to deal with the excretion of waste that comes from protein digestion of cow’s milk. Furthermore, the child is prone to early offsets of allergic reactions and gastrointestinal blood loss.

The table below shows why breast milk is superior to formula milk and cow’s milk owing to its optimum balance of nutrients that the child requires during the first six months of life.

Nutrient Comparison of Breast Milk, Formula, and Cow’s Milk
Products per 100 ml Energy

(kcal)

Protein

(g)

Calcium

(mg)

Phosphorus (mg) Iron

(mg)

Breast milk 70 1.0 32 14 0.3
Milk-based formula

(20 kcal/oz)

67 1.5 42-51 28-39 1.2
Soy-based formula

(20 kcal/oz)

67 1.8-2.1 60-71 42-51 1.2
Whole cow’s milk (homogenized) 64 4.9 120 95 Trace
Breast milk 70 1.0 32 14 0.3

 

6-12 months

At six months, breast milk alone cannot provide nutrients such as iron in the required amounts. Hence, complementary feeding becomes necessary. Hereby, an iron fortified cereal/porridge is introduced. This is done gradually say 2-3 tablespoons on the first day while still breastfeeding and ½ cup increasing to ¾ cup at say 6.5 months. If the child has not been gaining weight optimally, the porridge/cereal can be enriched with cooking oil. It is important to avoid mixed flours/composite flours. This is because different flours have different cooking temperatures. Hence, this might expose the child to gastrointestinal distress.

When introducing mashed foods or pureed foods, it is important to give a balanced diet. Each meal should contain carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins and minerals. The following pointers might be helpful.

  • Vegetables might be accepted more readily if introduced before fruits, since fruits taste sweeter.
  • Allow at least 3 days between introduction of each new food.
  • Begin with small amounts of foods, offering seconds as necessary.
  • Give the child water after every meal to avoid dehydration.

Plant proteins are usually introduced between 6-8 months and animal proteins at 8 months. Animal proteins are introduced later because some children are prone to allergies especially if there is a history of the same in the family. Hence, when introducing animal protein, it important to do so one at a time. Hence, if the child develops an allergy, the culprit food can be easily recalled and an alternative given. Common allergens are found in egg white, cow’s milk, citrus, wheat, chocolate, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and nut butters.

It is crucial to reduce or abstain altogether from blending food as the child approaches 8 months. This is because it will take longer for a child used to blended food to learn how to chew food.  Furthermore, it has been shown that children who learn how to chew food early on also learn how to speak early on. So if you want your child to say ‘Baba’ or ‘Mama’ earlier, desist blending his or her food after 8 months.

Now, there is more to be said about maternal nutrition, allergens, vitamin and mineral requirements etc. However, a brother also has to pay his bills. Hence, should you feel the need for more information, just book an appointment with a nutritionist at any of the Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital Clinic nearby you (Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital). I assure you, it will be worth your while.

 

Migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea? Whose problem is it?

November 12, 2004: Migrants try to climb aboard a Spanish civil guard vessel after their makeshift boat capsized during a rescue operation at sea off the coast of Fuerteventura. Of the 36 in the boat, 29 were rescued (Juan Medina/ Reuters)

November 12, 2004: Migrants try to climb aboard a Spanish civil guard vessel after their makeshift boat capsized during a rescue operation at sea off the coast of Fuerteventura. Of the 36 in the boat, 29 were rescued (Juan Medina/ Reuters)

Imagine if you will that you live in a gated community within which are seven homes each with its unique culture, environment and endowments. And just like any other community, there are regulations that govern its residents. These range from how the homes are to do business with each other, visit each other, or even change homes. All has been well in this community until children from one home became too frequent visitors in another.  While ordinarily visits in this gated community are relatively safe, lately they have been anything but.

Of course by now, dear reader, you are aware that this gated community is none other than earth and the two homes referred to herein are Africa and Europe.  The question that looms over these two homes is ‘whose problem is it’?

Europe

So far she has acted in a manner suggesting it is hers. At one time, in an effort to reduce the number of migrants making the perilous journey through the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, she withdrew her Search and Rescue operations. This was unfortunately informed by a perception that the operation acted as a pull factor for the migrants. The result was of course the unprecedented deaths of over 1,200 migrants in two separate disasters in the month of April alone. Since then, the European Union has resumed search and rescue operations.

October 5, 2013: Coffins are laid out in a hangar at Lampedusa airport after a boat packed with migrants sank, killing more than 360 people(Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

October 5, 2013: Coffins are laid out in a hangar at Lampedusa airport after a boat packed with migrants sank, killing more than 360 people(Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Furthermore, beginning next month, the EU will conduct search and destroy operations against the boat smugglers in Libyan waters. However there are some who think this is an inefficient way of dealing with the problem. A more robust way would be tracking the money made through trafficking, possibly into tax havens in Europe and freezing such accounts.

Adoption of a quota system in resettling the migrants among its member countries has also been considered. As things stand now, out of the twenty two members countries of the EU, only six bear the heaviest burden of immigrants.

Other possible avenues of action have also been floated. It has been suggested (rather obviously) that a stable Libya would be a deterrent to the lucrative trade of human smuggling. However, a stable Libya driven by western influence might be a long shot. This is because it was the West that encouraged the toppling of Muamar Gaddafi thus leaving a leadership vacuum in Libya.

Anti-Gaddafi forces place tanks in position in Om El Khanfousa, east of Sirte, after liberating the area from Gaddafi's forces Photo: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

Anti-Gaddafi forces place tanks in position in Om El Khanfousa, east of Sirte, after liberating the area from Gaddafi’s forces Photo: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

It has also been suggested that applications for asylum be processed south of the Mediterranean Sea as opposed to inside Europe as is the case currently. In addition, successful applicants will be hosted by North African countries with the support of the EU while rejected economic refugees will be sent back to their home countries.

Throughout these deliberations, the underlying attitude of Europe towards immigrants has come to the surface. Consider a few presented herein.

Africa’s demographic time bomb is its own affair. If they do not have the rule of law, good governance and birth control why should we, who do, have to suffer the consequences? We know that it is an invasion exploiting our gullibility with their ‘rights’. We know that millions will come. We know what it will do to our society. Time to put up the draw bridge. Our ancestors did not fight for our freedoms for this moral weakness because we don’t have the guts to stand up for ourselves as that may be seen as racist to say no to black people due to our pathetic white guilt. I don’t know about future generations as they’ll probably be African not European.’ Reader commenting in The Guardian Newspaper (of course this opinion is not representative of the newspaper)

NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care… Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit “Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors. It’s time to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’ Celebrity Columnist Katie Hopkins writing for The Sun newspaper.

Nonetheless despite such anti-African sentiments, Europe has taken decisive steps to solve its immigration problem. Unfortunately, Africa has yet to wake up to its emigration problem.

Africa

In Africa, it seems that migrants can only find a voice through civil society groups and journalists.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights which met in Banjul in early May, said in a statement that it “deplores the silence of African countries” on migrant deaths, calling on the African Union “to end this scourge, and respond to the plight of these people“.

The silence of African leaders faced with the drama of illegal immigration, with its toll of deaths, is disturbing,” said Amsatou Sow Sidibe, an adviser to Senegalese President Macky Sall.

Illegal emigration is emptying the continent and the African countries of the means to promote their development,” she told AFP, blaming “widespread poverty and massive unemployment of youth attracted to horizons where they hope, often wrongly, to find the conditions for a more tolerable life“.

The organisation further voiced concern that the deteriorating socio-economic, political and security situation in some countries was “pushing these people to embark on the migratory adventure, risking their lives“.

Perhaps the only thing response we have heard from the African Union is a passing statement from its chairperson during a meet with the EU on 22 nd April this year.

“If people don’t have livelihoods at all, they are not going to sit and die of hunger, they are going to look for greener pastures,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told reporters in Brussels.

 “We don’t have an instant solution but we are going to be looking at and taking steps but we can’t say those steps will solve this thing tomorrow,” she added.

Unfortunately, I cannot recall of any sitting president who has addressed the problem directly except Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. However, his comments add salt to an already open and festering wound.

 Gambian President Yahya Jammeh Photo: Reuters

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh  Photo: Reuters

He acknowledged in an address on state-run television in mid-May that “there were many funerals in the country a few weeks ago because a lot of people died in the Mediterranean”.

But he blamed parents who pay for their children to embark on the risky voyage, suggesting they are not “true Muslims”.

“If these people are true Muslims and really believe in what they are saying, then they should equally believe that their sons and daughters could have made it at home if they were ready to invest and work,” Jammeh said.

July 1, 2008: A man offer prayers of thanks after arriving at a beach on Spain's Canary island of Gran Canaria(Borja Suarez/Reuters)

July 1, 2008: A man offer prayers of thanks after arriving at a beach on Spain’s Canary island of Gran Canaria(Borja Suarez/Reuters)

Consider the audience to whom President Jammeh directed his message will you?  A people subjected to human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings, torture and its journalists constantly muzzled; a people who know poverty first hand- a third of them survive on $1.25 or less a day. Yes, according to president Jammeh, it is their fault that their children perished in the Mediterranean Sea.

So the question still stands, whose problem is it?

My take is this is a European problem as much as it is an African problem. And to solve it, Europe needs to swallow its pride and overcome its fear of the other and Africa needs to gather what little dignity it has left,  recognise that those seeking refuge in Europe are not the scum of the earth but a product of poor African governance.  It is time Africa hearkened to the cries of her perishing young.

 

2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey; Inching closer towards meeting MDG 1

-000

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) of 2014 has finally been released. Considering that this was the first under the new constitution, its release was anticipated with much interest. It has not disappointed. Apart from interesting findings on fertility rates across the counties which the media presented with a tongue-in-cheek, the survey shows the gains made by directing resources towards ending hunger.

The national prevalence of stunting (too short for age showing chronic malnutrition) is 26%, wasting (too thin for height showing acute malnutrition) is 4 %, and underweight (too thin for age showing acute and chronic malnutrition) is 11%.

Stunting

Stunting is noted to be highest (36 %) in children aged 18-23 months and lowest (10%) in children aged less than 6 months. This is a clear indicator that there needs to be more nutrition education on complementary feeding and the 1000 days (conception to two years of age) window of opportunity  needs to be fully utilised to avert malnutrition.

Stunting is also noted to be higher among boys (30 %) than girls (22 percent) and higher among rural children (29 %) than urban children (20 %). While this difference between rural and urban children may be true nationally, it is not necessarily true from one county to another.

Consider Trans Nzoia County, Kenya’s maize basket. In a study I carried out therein among children under five years from resource poor households, I found a significantly higher proportion (P=0.047) of urban children were stunted (40%) compared to rural children (19%).The prevalence rate of stunting in Trans Nzoia County according to the KDHS 2014 is 29.2 %. This is believable considering that this figure comprises of all children (urban and rural) and does not take into account the resources owned by a household.

In the KDHS, education of the care givers was also taken into account. It was found that children of mothers with secondary or higher education are less likely to be stunted (17%) compared with children whose mothers did not complete primary school (34 %) or have no education (31%). This shows that efforts directed towards the improvement of girl-child education should be encouraged and not downplayed as is usually done by groups such as Maendeleo ya Wanaume (MAWE) and the numerous heavily paternalistic communities across Kenya.

At the county level, West Pokot and Kitui have the highest proportions (46 percent) of stunted children. Others reporting high proportions of stunting include Kilifi (39 percent), Mandera (36 percent), and Bomet (36 percent). Nyeri, Garissa, and Kiambu counties have the lowest proportion of stunted children, each less than 16 percent.

Wasting

Wasting is highest among children in the age groups 6-8 months and 9-11 months (each 7 percent). This shows there is a gap in the manner in which complementary feeds are introduced. Furthermore, children at this age are quite vulnerable to infections accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting, high fever and loss of appetite. This consequently leads to acute weight loss.

The survey further reveals that children whose mothers have no education have a higher chance of wasting (10 percent) compared with children of educated mothers. Wasting in children is inversely related to household wealth.

Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, and Samburu Counties exhibited the highest proportions of wasting (>11%) while Siaya and Kisumu exhibited the least (<1%)

 Underweight

Children aged 24-35 months were found to have the highest levels of underweight with boys showing higher levels (12 percent) than girls (10 percent), and rural children exhibiting higher percentage (13 percent) than urban children (7 percent). It is important remember that these are national figures but the nutrition status at the county level may be far much different. Once again consider Trans Nzoia County where I found urban preschoolers exhibited slightly higher rates (22%) as compared to their rural counterparts, (17%). This shows that perhaps in high potential agricultural areas, it is the urban poor who are more vulnerable to malnutrition than the rural poor. The survey reports underweight levels in Trans Nzoia being 15.3%.

The survey correctly noted that proportion underweight decreases as mother’s education level increases or household wealth quintile increases.

In Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, and Samburu, more than 25% of children are underweight while in Nyeri and Nairobi counties this figure stands at less than 4%.

All in all, the survey brings some good news; there is a marked reduction in malnutrition since 2008/9; Stunting has decreased from 35 percent to 26 percent, wasting from 7 percent to 4 percent, and underweight from 16 percent to 11 percent. Furthermore, the proportion of children younger than age 6 months who are exclusively breastfed has increased significantly from 32 percent in the 2008-09 KDHS to the current 61 percent

It is such evidence that gives us hope. Our efforts are not in vain. Perhaps we are closer towards meeting MDG 1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, than we think.

A Tale of Two Governors; Mwangi Wa Iria and Alfred Mutua

MutuaMwangi

It goes without saying that the promulgation of the new constitution in August, 2010 marked the beginning of a new era in Kenya . The impact of this constitution was to be felt in all sectors of the economy. This is especially so since many of the functions that were previously handled by the national government were to be devolved to the County government. Chief among these were agriculture, health and education. The fourth estate has so far done a wonderful job in highlighting the progress made my various county governments. Time and time again, two governors have caught the media’s eye. They have proven themselves developmental and unlike most governors in the country, they have given political shenanigans a wide berth and sought to deliver the pledges they made to their people. It is these two, Mwangi Wa Iria and Alfred Mutua that I shall attempt to profile especially in matters food and nutrition security.

Mwangi Wa Iria, the governor of Murang’a County rode into power on two pledges; to put money into people’s pockets and to better the grade of students in the County.

To meet these pledges, he sourced the expertise of Deloitte and Touch firm who drew a 1 year strategic plan. This plan was fed into the County’s 5-year strategic plan. Agriculture and Education were given highest priority.

In agriculture, the governor has invested Ksh 50 million in fertiliser and seed subsidy. This is in addition to the fertiliser subsidy offered by the national government. The county subsidy targets 6,500 farmers. It is also used in the acquisition of several drought resistant crops such as Soya, sweet potato and Katumani beans to be planted in the semi-arid areas of the county.

He has also invested Ksh 200 million in an irrigation scheme covering 1000 acres that is to benefit 10,000 farmers. This scheme will focus on growing of rice and horticultural crops. It is envisioned that the county shall be able to produce enough for its own consumption but more importantly for sale to other counties.

In April, this year, Mwangi Wa Iria invested Ksh 500 million in the purchase of 35 milk coolers for every ward. Youth and women were encouraged to form groups wherein they would be given a heifer with which to start a dairy herd. I suppose, as a former managing director of the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries, investment in the dairy sector was in the offing.

Perhaps the most innovative investment strategy that the governor has employed is the formation of Murang’a Investment Cooperative Sacco (MICS). The Sacco aims to raise funds from the county residents for investment in real estate, energy and agro-processing. It seems to have been borrowed from Rwanda’s Agaciro fund whose main function is to lessen the country’s dependence on foreign aid. To their credit, members of the county assembly seem to be the only ones in Kenya who have drawn lessons from those expensive learning trips to Rwanda.

In education, the governor has invested Ksh 70 million in a bursary for bright and needy students in the County. Furthermore, he has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenyatta University to advance agribusiness initiatives in the County.

On the other hand, Alfred Mutua seems to pick his development agenda from a handbook of trickledown economics.

He has made several investments in recreational infrastructure such as the Machakos People’s park and the Machakos stadium. These investments, combined with flamboyant public relations machinery, have seen Machakos be the darling of Nairobi’s middle class. The hosting of several music concerts and rugby tournaments in Machakos town is a testament to this fact.

In recent times, he has flaunted the Kitumani-Makutano ma Mwala road as the ‘fastest built highway in Kenya and possibly in Africa’. Built at a cost of Ksh 650 million instead of the proposed Ksh 1.6 billion, Alfred Mutua has publicised the infrastructure as an African lesson in austerity. However, doubts have been raised about the quality and durability of the road and his ‘Maendeleo Chap Chap’ philosophy. It is because of this that many political pundits question his long term commitment to the people of Machakos County. They view his handling of Machakos County as a convenient stepping stone to a higher political office. But I digress.

Other investments in the pipeline by my Mutua include digging of boreholes (800), dams and pans (820) and raised water tanks (896).

He has also set aside money (figures not provided) for provision of free tractors, subsidised fertilisers, free chicks, seeds and greenhouses for 20 women groups in each of the 40 wards in the county. However, the actualisation of these investments remains to be seen.

To his credit, education in primary schools in the County have received a boost due to a Ksh 250 million in the supplementary budget allocated for School Feeding Programs and other food relief programs in the county.

Perhaps the most significant investment undertaken by Alfred Mutua is the purchasing of 80 ambulances (70 vans and 10 motorcycles) and upgrading the 40 community health centres in each ward to community hospitals. Considering that 360 women per 100,000 live births died in Kenya in 2013 and 73 children out of 1000 births die before the age of five, any investment to reduce the maternal and infant mortality rate in Kenya is very much welcome. Indeed as the governor stated in his speech during the launch of the ambulances (in flamboyance of course), perhaps Machakos county (or the Government of Machakos as the Dr prefers) would see an end to the naming of children as ‘Nzia’ meaning one born by the roadside.

So there is the brief profile of the soft spoken Mwangi Wa Iria and the stylish Alfred Mutua (Dr I should add). Come 2017 the scorecard of governors will be in the offing. I bet that residents of Murang’a County will have more money in their pockets (Ksh 200/day up from the current Ksh 63/day) and her children would record higher grades. I also bet that the living standards in Machakos County will have improved immensely. However, much of this will be evident in Machakos town and other peri-urban areas rather than the rural areas. Thus, if given a choice, I would rather be a resident in Murang’a County.

Neymar and Maize: The Peculiar Similarities

Neymarstock-photo-young-ears-of-corn-against-the-sky-149104505

I truly empathise with Brazil and her fans all over the world. Although I am no doctor, it seems to me that a fractured vertebra is no small matter. So much so that Neymar would have to miss out on the rest of World Cup. Brazil Coach Luis Felipe Scolari and the Brazilian team laid a lot of hope on the young man.

It was obvious right from the start that the game revolved around Neymar’s performance. Balls were fed to him from both flanks of the field. It seemed all players were under strict instruction to look out for the boy whenever they obtained possession of the ball. The coach has tried to lay the blame of Neymar’s injury on the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who allowed several rugged challenges from both sides to go unpunished throughout the match between Brazil and Colombia. However, I think the referee was just trying to allow the game flow without many stoppages. Neymar’s injury should fall squarely on the Brazil Coach. He is the one who thrust the boy into the limelight, and allowed him to take centre stage; even when there was clear indication of his being increasingly fouled throughout the world Cup matches. The pressure to perform was clearly weighing heavy on Neymar. He is without a doubt the poster boy of the Brazil team. However, placing too much importance on one individual, no matter how good, is bound to have its consequences.

This phenomenon is not restricted to soccer talent management only. It is also true in matters food and nutrition security.

During my studies in Uganda, it was often quipped that the availability of a wide array of staples in Uganda was the key factor that prevented the occurrence of famine during Idi Amin’s presidency. Plantains, sweet potatoes, arrowroots, cassava, and maize are just but some of the many staples widely consumed by Ugandans. It is not uncommon for one to order a little bit of each, along with a desired stew such as groundnuts, beans and the like. It is true, without a single shadow of doubt, that Ugandans’ dietary diversity score is way up there. Cross over to Kenya, my beloved country, and the situation is the exact opposite. Our obsession with maize is unbridled.

In order to understand how maize came to take center stage in matters agriculture, a sneak peek into the past is helpful.

The maize crop was introduced to Kenya by the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th Century. However, it became an important commercial crop when adopted by the European settlers in the 18th century. The latter did away with the Portuguese variety that did well in the coastal areas and introduced varieties sought from South Africa which had higher yields.

Many European large scale farmers gravitated towards maize over cash crops like tea, coffee, sisal and pyrethrum. This was largely attributed to the lower initial financial costs required to engage in maize farming and the quicker returns. Moreover, maize did not require a high level of technical skills and management as did other crops.

The European famers were encouraged to grow maize by the then colonial government which offered them such incentives as special railway transport rebates and protection from vagaries of the world market. Furthermore, maize offered an easy means of feeding the African labour force employed in the vast farms. In the 1st and 2nd world war, the colonial government encouraged and supported the farmers to produce even more in the name of supporting British war efforts.

Such steps taken by the colonial government laid the foundation for a radical change in the tastes and preferences of Africans. Overtime, plantation workers and world war veterans preferred maize to traditional staples such as sorghum and millet. In Nyanza, stories were told of young men offering to work in European plantations not only earn money but also enjoy free rations of Ugali maize meal. And as they say, the rest is history.

Maize is now grown even in arid and semi-arid lands, areas which do not support the agronomical requirements of the crop. Agricultural research institutes are burning the midnight oil to develop drought resistant maize varieties. Although, these efforts are laudable it makes more sense to promote the adoption of crops such as sorghum and millet which have significantly lower water requirements than maize.

In peculiar similarity to the popular Neymar, the popular maize crop is beginning to give in. Farmers in the South Rift are beginning to shy away from the crop after incurring heavy losses attributed to necrosis disease. Yields have dwindled over the years due to declining soil fertility while human population has increased and consequently the per capita consumption of maize. Hence, farmers in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu County, the major maize production areas, are also beginning to look to other high value crops owing to declining profits in maize production. Due to climate change, rain fed maize yields are expected to fall drastically. Consequently, it is predicted that come 2050, world prices for maize would increase by 52-55%.

In order to avert food insecurity in the long term, I suggest a three-pronged solution. There should be a national nutrition education programme. This campaign should be sustained over a considerable period of time say five years. During this period, behaviour change regarding food choice especially of staples ought to be monitored and evaluated at previously agreed intervals. Perhaps, consumer research firms devoted to political polls that more often than not are of little public benefit can be put to good use. Secondly, protectionism around the maize crop should be completely removed. In its stead, incentives should be given to farmers to grow other staples such as millet, potatoes, sorghum and the like. Thirdly, research institutes should channel their time and energies to developing varieties of the aforementioned crops that are high yielding, disease and pest-resistant.

Contrary to taking the suggested measures, it will only be a matter of time before the maize crop completely gives in. Then, we will be left wondering why we did not heed the warnings the crop tried to give us that it was under too much pressure to perform.

NB: Historical information on maize largely obtained from Professor Mark Ollunga Odhiambo’s inaugural lecture: ‘The Kenyan Maize Sub-Sector Performance and Its Implications for Food Security Policy Dialogue.

 

 

 

 

When men eat grass

A while ago a pastor in South Africa caused a stir when he coerced his congregants to eat grass in the name of God. I found it particularly hard to be sympathetic to the faithful probably because I thought they should know better. However, when news of Syrians trapped in Damascus, with no food to eat or water to drink, resorted to gnawing grass, my heart ached. This was a cruel reminder as to why Amartya Sen regarded dignity as a pivotal component of hunger alleviation. It was also a reminder of the nexus between conflict and hunger. The jury is still out as to whether a cause-effect relationship exists between the two. Nonetheless, it does not require statistical rigour to note the diabolical vicious association between conflict and hunger.

In 1999, Africa was the continent in which major armed conflicts took place. It still is I presume. Most of these conflicts were protracted accompanied by complex humanitarian emergencies.

Continent Major Conflict Minor Conflict
Europe Russia(Chechnya)

Yugoslavia

Russia (Dagestan)
Middle East West Bank and Gaza

Turkey

 
Asia Burma

India(Kashmir)

India-Pakistan

Philippines(New people’s army)

Sri Lanka

India()

Nepal

Philippines (Mindanao)

Africa Algeria

Angola

Congo, republic of

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Uganda

Sudan

Burundi

Guinea-Bissau

Rwanda

Senegal

Sierra Leone

Eritrea-Ethiopia

Chad

Ethiopia (Ogaden; Oromiya; Somali )

South America Colombia

Peru

 

Source: Wallensteen & Sollenberg (2000)

Fifteen years later little has changed. The Central African Republic has recently been in the spotlight because of religious militias taking on each other. Some of the stories that emanated from C.A.R shocked even the stoniest amongst us. A few countries away, South Sudan was at it again. Therein, the conflict took an ethnic turn into what a leading media house in Kenya referred to as a silent massacre. Currently, close to 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance as markets have failed and the supply channels used to deliver food to the villages have been disrupted. The UN agency, WFP, has resorted to airdrops to deliver food. The conflicts are also felt in North-East Nigeria where Boko-Haram has been engaging the government in Guerrilla warfare. The most vulnerable group are school going children. The last time I checked 190 school girls had been abducted by the extremists.

I can go on and on but somewhere in Syria, men are eating grass because a regime which many perceive has overstayed its welcome, feels it has the right to determine who eats and who does not-literally. Now, I can furnish you with figures that show discrepancy between food production during times of peace and times of war; I can tell you that prior to 1994, a drastic fall in global prices of coffee reduced the purchasing power of rural Rwandese and consequently their living conditions, they, living in quiet desperation, found it easy to turn against each other when appealed to do so; I can remind you that it was the failure of Emperor Haile Selassie to respond to food shortages in Ethiopia that led to his overthrow. However, I feel we should end on a moral note.

In hunger and conflict, what once was abominable becomes the norm. Eyebrows are no longer raised when a woman and a man wielding a gun go behind a bush and later, the woman is spotted with a bag of flour. Jaws no longer drop when a man rips off flesh from a fresh human corpse using his teeth. Mothers do not utter a sound when their children are recruited into the army. Girls no longer have the strength to resist the soldiers’ forceful advances. These and other unutterable horrors of war are not new to us. Every day, we are fed with news of such from across the world. Some are so near us geographically, yet, far, emotionally. We have become so accustomed to the sounds of drones, blasts, screams, corpses on our TV screens that we forget that they too are human. We have become deaf to the tolling of the bell. We have forgotten that the death of another diminishes us. We have forgotten that it is a thin line between war and peace and while few strive to see that this line is not crossed, the indifference of most will inevitably lead to its crossing time and time again.