In this day and age, we should be thinking food, not stolen votes

Friday November 10 2017

 starvation

A farmer in Namanjalala, Trans Nzoia County, on May 9, 2017 shows the maize crop that was attacked by fall armyworms. In Kenya alone, at least 3.4 million people are at risk of starvation. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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At one time in our short period as a free nation, we Kenyans were rated to be the most optimistic people on earth.

Alas, this is no longer the case. In fact, the sense of euphoria did not last long, and I believe this had everything to do with our brand of politics, which has all the finesse of a pigsty built by a vagabond hired from a village kumi kumi (illicit brew) den.

Three months after a fiercely fought presidential election, and billions of shillings out of pocket, this country still lacks a functional executive government because one half of the voting public doesn’t believe in it while the other half feels cheated out of two election victories.

FOOD SECURITY

We aspire to be a middle income nation in the next 13 years, but at this rate, we will be lucky if by 2030, we are not back where we started 50 years ago.

We still suffer acutely from the three evils that our founding fathers swore to eradicate: Poverty, ignorance and disease.

They should have added a fourth — hunger and starvation.

As a country, we still cannot feed ourselves.

Granted, not all the hungers that assail us are of our own making, but we cannot escape the fact that we have been unable to mitigate them because our leaders are too busy fighting for political power.

STARVATION
One event on Thursday this week is a pointer to the malaise.

How many people, besides a number of journalists and staff of the Agriculture and Irrigation ministries are aware that Kenya marked the UN World Food Day almost a month after the rest of the world did?

This is because we were holding our second presidential election on the same day other people were thinking about food.

The World Food Day is marked in October every year so that governments can remind themselves that in this day and age, millions are going without adequate food and some actually dying of starvation.

DROUGHT

In Kenya alone, at least 3.4 million people are at risk of starvation, while in the larger Horn of Africa region, 15 million are even more vulnerable.

It is true the eastern African region was hit by a prolonged drought for two years running, and it is also true that global warming, for which we are not really to blame, has made the rain patterns at once cantankerous and unreliable, thus making it impossible for farmers to plan with any predictability.

However, there is more to this than meets the eye.

Towards the end of March this year, the first All Africa Post-Harvest Conference was held in Nairobi to little publicity.

Its aim was to devise ways in which food can be harvested and stored safely to minimise loss.

MAIZE FARMERS

Learned papers were presented by agriculturalists, crop scientists, agronomists and economists in recognition that at least a third (37 per cent) of all the food harvested is lost before consumption.

However, apparently, their advice and admonitions were ignored by policymakers.

Today, maize farmers in the North Rift, which is Kenya’s grain basket, are lamenting.

After a long period of drought, armyworm invasion, and poor prices, they were looking forward to a bountiful harvest, but they are now facing huge losses.

This is because they are either unable to harvest their maize due to the extraordinarily heavy “short rains”, and when they do, they have no way of storing their grain.

FOOD STORAGE
One would have expected that by now, huge storage silos would have been built, cheap innovative post-harvest storage technologies adopted, and other measures tried out to reduce the moisture content.

Some countries have tried to use solar-powered kilns for that purpose, but too many farmers in Kenya do not seem to have warmed up to this idea, or they are too poor to afford them.

While it is right to concentrate on food production through subsidised fertilisers and pesticides, and while it is a moral imperative to ensure no Kenyan dies of starvation, equal weight should be given to saving the food that is already harvested.

There is very little anybody can do about drought, but it is a great shame that a third of all the food produced is lost due to preventable circumstances.

Maybe if we spent less time talking about stolen votes and more time worrying about food storage, we would be on the way to real liberation from poverty, hunger and starvation.

Magesha Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]