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.

 

 

 

 

2013: Year in Review

It is that time of the year when we must take stock of the year passed and measure our hopes for the New Year. 2013 was without a doubt a year of pivotal events, especially in my homeland Kenya. We had a peaceful general election in March- the first under the new constitution. We celebrated 50 years of independence hence joining a throng of other African nations that have achieved the same in the recent past. However, in spite of these positive developments, Kenya and other African nations are still bedevilled by hunger, corruption, disease, ill-governance, conflict and poverty.  This is reflected in the global reports of 2013. I will elaborate on some that focus on hunger.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013

The GHI measures and tracks hunger globally and by region and country. It is computed by the international Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and employs three main indicators i.e. undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. In 2013, the worst performing regions were South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.  South Asia had the highest GHI score and this was attributed to social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women.

The Sahel region was noted to be prone to hunger due to a number of factors. These included sporadic rainfall, locust infestation, crop shortages, and high and volatile food prices. These affected the food and nutrition security of the region negatively. Furthermore, conflict in countries such as Mali and Northern Nigeria exacerbated the situation. However, despite this grim picture, Ghana stood tall as it was among the top ten best performers in terms of improving her GHI score since 1990. It goes without saying that Ghana is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Studies have proved there is a very strong positive association between democracy and food and nutrition security. Perhaps this is why Ghana attracts an even rosier review in The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013. However, I am anticipating. We will come to that later.

Some countries exhibited significant increases in their GHI scores, the worst performers, all of them in Africa, are Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea. The report attributes increased hunger in Burundi and Comoros since 1990 to prolonged conflict and political instability.

The following are excerpts of what the report says of some African countries:

  • The three countries with extremely alarming 2013 GHI scores—Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea— are in Africa south of the Sahara.
  • Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea currently have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 60 percent of the population
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population of more than 60 million, still appears as a grey area on the map because reliable data on undernourishment are lacking and the level of hunger cannot be assessed- High-quality data for the Democratic Republic of Congo, as for other likely hunger hot spots such as (Afghanistan) and Somalia, are badly needed.
  • Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from approximately 18 to about 19 %.
  • The HIV and AIDS epidemic, along with high income inequality, has severely undermined food security in Swaziland despite growth in national income. Because of drought, more than one-quarter of the population depended on emergency food aid in 2006–2007, and the country’s GDP per capita declined between 2007 and 2010. High unemployment, overgrazing, soil depletion, and the risk of future droughts and floods pose persistent challenges.

 

The State of Food Insecurity in the World; the multiple dimensions of food security, 2013

This annual report communicates progress made towards achieving the 2001 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Hunger i.e. halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population and the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit(WFS) goal on hunger i.e. halve the number of hungry people. It should be noted that both goals have 1990 as the starting year and 2015 as the target year. However, the WFS goal is harder to achieve because of the high rates of population growth in many hunger-affected countries. The report estimated that to meet the WFS target, the number of hungry people in developing regions would have to be reduced to 498 million by 2015, a goal that is out of reach at the global level.

In 2011-2013, 842 million people i.e. 12 % of the total world’s population were unable to meet their dietary requirements. This means that one in eight people were likely to have suffered from chronic hunger.

Africa remained the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (on in four people) within which the sub-Saharan region had the highest (24.8%) prevalence of undernourishment.  The report concludes that Africa is not on track to achieve the MDG hunger target. Nonetheless, Ghana goes against the grain. It had met its 2015 MDG hunger target by 2000–02. By 2011-2013, less than 5 % of its population were undernourished. It was also well on track to meet its MDG poverty target before 2015. This impressive record in a region not known to post such is attributed to a robust economic growth (its GDP grew by an average of 4.5% a year since 1983 and by an impressive 14 % in 2011), market reforms and favourable terms of trade and investment climate. However, all this would not be possible without the peace and political stability that Ghana enjoys. In fact, I dare say, this is the impetus that fuelled Ghana to meeting the MDG hunger target by 2000-02.

In stark contrast to Ghana, Uganda records a dismal performance on its progress to meet the MDG hunger target. Firstly, the prevalence of undernourishment has been increasing since the early 2000. This is attributed to discordance between food production and population growth. Uganda has an annual population growth of 3.2%, one of the highest in the world. This rate combined with a declining food production per capita, unequal distribution and access to food have rendered one third of Uganda’s population to be chronically undernourished.

Conclusion

African countries performance in regard to ending hunger leaves a lot to be desired. While the continent boasts of having the largest tracts of unused arable land, it also holds the unenviable title of the continent with the highest number of hungry people. Much has been said of this discrepancy and quite a number of recommendations have been suggested. Despite of all these efforts, the changes over the years do not merit the investment made into bringing about those changes. As we measure the hopes that we have for the New Year, it is my sincere hope that we see much more political commitments made towards ending hunger globally and especially in Africa. It is also my sincere desire that we witness significant changes in the indicators of hunger in the foreseeable future. Perhaps approaching the year 2015, measuring of progress made towards MDGs and post-2015 development agenda will fuel efforts towards eliminating hunger. Meanwhile, remarks made by José Graziano da Silva (FAO Director-General), Kanayo F. Nwanze( IFAD President) and Ertharin Cousin (WFP Executive Director) in the foreword to The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013 ring ever so true…

“Ultimately, political stability, effective governance and, most importantly, uninterrupted long- term commitments to mainstreaming food security and nutrition in policies and programmes are key to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition”

NB: A more concise review of 2013 can be found at http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/2013/12/happy-new-year-a-look-back-at-2013.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Hunger-undernutritionBlog+%28Hunger-Undernutrition+Blog%29

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The Role of Youths In Agriculture in the EAC

On the 4th of November, I, among other youths from the East African Community (EAC) gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to deliberate on our involvement in agriculture. The outcomes of this pre-symposium were designed to feed into the International Symposium and Exhibition on Agricultural Development in the EAC partner states. All the EAC member states will have attained 50 years of independence by the end of the year. It was thus pivotal that progress made in agriculture in the past be evaluated and forge plans for the future. In doing this, our role in agriculture could not be overlooked. We shared our experiences in production, value addition, agribusiness, inputs supply and innovations in agriculture. It was evident that youths involved in agriculture were making considerable strides despite the numerous challenges we faced. Some of the major challenges discussed included access to credit, competition from larger companies for start-ups, market access and bureaucracies in licensing and obtaining information.

Nonetheless, the pre-symposium begged the question, why should more youth be involved in agriculture and secondly, why were they shying away from the trade? Several attempts were made to answer these questions.

It was noted that the East African region boasts of the youngest population in the world. More than 60% of the population consists of persons between 0-24 years. Uganda leads the pack with this age group consisting of 73 % of its population. It is this bulging youth population that necessitates changes in the way development is approached. This change is further made crucial by projections showing population growth in the next 30 years in all EAC member states will occur in the urban areas. Hence, the need to increase food supply to these areas is inevitable. Given that all the member states hope to achieve middle income status by the year 2040, it is reasonable to assume that the demand for animal protein will increase as the middle class increases.

In order to feed the growing population in the cities, there is need to focus on the rural youth. The rural youth have the golden opportunity of supplying urban areas with food given the availability of large tracts of arable land in the rural areas as opposed to the cities. However, much of this land is owned by the older population. The average age of arable land tenure in the member states is between 50 and 60 years. Kenya leads the pack with the average farmer being 57 years old. It is these dynamics that need due consideration in planning food and nutrition security programmes.

It was also duly noted that development in the region highly favoured urban development as opposed to rural development. This was seen as the major driver of rural-urban migration. A dwindling able-bodied population in the rural areas poses a great barrier to production of food. Furthermore, there is only a 20% chance of the youth gaining meaningful employment in the cities. It is thus crucial that the youth be more involved in agriculture not only for their welfare but for the food security of EAC inhabitants, especially in the city. However, in order to achieve this, there is need to focus on rural development. Improving the state of the roads and networks in the rural areas would greatly improve food distribution channels and mechanisms. Furthermore, efforts in infrastructure developments such as rural electrification would attract agro-based industries to the rural areas as the proximity to raw materials would greatly reduce costs of production. Such improvements would inevitably reduce rural-urban migration and furthermore, attract and retain the youth in agriculture.

All in all, on the podium, the pre-symposium concluded that it is no longer important that the youth be involved in Food and Nutrition security programmes. It is imperative. However, off the podium, there was general scepticism among the youth participants as to whether this would be realized in the near future.

NB: A taste of Uganda’s Hospitality