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What do people in Lamu do with surplus mangoes? Throw them at Joho

Wednesday April 12 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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I wish to protest, on behalf of Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho, the mango missiles thrown at him at Mpeketoni, Lamu County, which he recently visited on the campaign trail.

I cannot dictate to the public how to show pleasure or displeasure, especially to politicians, but I can say that using food to express displeasure is ill-thought, against most religious norms and an affront to African cultural mores.

Whereas food is a blessing, we use it for the wrong purpose in this case, sending the wrong message to the universe, the ancestors or God, depending on who or what one believes in. If we throw food at Joho, we are blessing him. Period.

In many African societies, food is given freely, generously and with respectful dignity. Many a time, visitors are fed before the agenda of their visit to a particular place is established.

But even assuming our cultures no longer play any roles in day-to-day life, we live in Africa, where food security is a challenge, not just in dry areas but also in agriculturally productive ones, at the slightest change in weather patterns.

How, then, does a Kenyan use food as a missile?

JUICIEST MANGOES

Food security, which means everyone having the food they need on a daily basis, is a basic right. It also includes the quality and nutritional value of the food available.

Food insecurity and deficiency include starvation, hunger, malnutrition or under-nutrition and are most prevalent in low-income countries. According to the 2013 FAO list, 37 of the 62 low-income, food-deficit countries are in Africa.

It clearly means very little to Kenyans that the world failed to meet Millennium Development Goal 1, "to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015".

One of the major causes of food insecurity is inadequate food supply, but closely related, and many times inexplicably entangled with this factor, is inadequate food distribution.

It would have been more forgivable had people been beating politicians with food because they had failed to solve the food distribution problem, yet were back asking for votes.

The Lamu area of Mukowe and the wider island produces some of the juiciest mangoes in Kenya, yet year in, year out, during mango season, there are piles of mangoes without a market.

Taking a bus ride from Malindi to Lamu during mango harvest season is like a drive in mango paradise, only the mangoes are rotting.

Ironically, this year, while mangoes were being used as missiles, Kenyans in the northern end of this country were in danger of starvation.

I would have expected the governor to turn this negative into a positive by talking about the perennial "oversupply" of mangoes and possible solutions when he or the party he was campaigning for would be running the government. That is leadership.

But Kenyans have allowed politicians to set the bar so low that such an event goes unrecorded in both the consciousness of the people and their so-called "leaders".

INDIGENOUS FOOD SYSTEMS

This mango problem is not just found in Lamu. On a drive from Kisumu to Rarieda around February you can see a replica of the exact same situation: piles of juicy mangoes lined along the road waiting for a non-existent market.

A while back, around the Limuru-Kijabe areas, it was carrots, cabbages and kale.

This basically means the "African farmer" will never make it. At harvest time there is an oversupply and farm produce is sold at almost throwaway prices.

Sadly, this oversupply is often limited to the area producing a particular crop, while the rest of the country experiences sky-high prices for the same crop, due to "scarcity".

One obvious solution would be technical intervention. Here we’re not talking of governors importing machines worth billions but food preservation systems; either using technology or indigenous food systems to ensure the surplus food outlasts the production season or gets to other parts of the country, though not necessarily in its original form.

Food-secure countries have all sorts of dried fruits that are eaten as snacks such as dates, prunes, figs and apricots, among others. What is so difficult about having our own brands of dried mangoes, pineapples, bananas and other fruits?

The whole idea of the county political dispensation is that we solve our local problems the way we best understand them. But so far, as far as food security goes, our nationwide score must be around two out of 10.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa

Editor's Note: This article was updated on April 12, 2017 to reflect that Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho was pelted with mangoes in Mpeketoni, Lamu County.