To end hunger and social ills, we need to give grass a chance

Monday December 4 2017

The recent prolonged drought has taught us some painful and expensive lessons,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta during his recent inauguration.

“We must completely re-engineer our agricultural sector in order to be food-secure. Never again should we allow the vagaries of weather to hold us hostage.”

Without getting caught up in the semantics of the word “re-engineering”, we can assume that it means his government will do things differently from how it has in the past five years in the arid and semi arid lands (ASALs).

As the President assembles the team that will help him to fulfill what will become his legacy, we citizens need give our input so as to continue our civic duty beyond the polling booth.

LAND MASS

First, 80 per cent of Kenya’s land mass is in ASALs while the remainder is the once-high-potential agricultural areas that are now on the food deficit zone due to population pressure.

Because of the small land sizes, farmers in the high-potential areas are limited in deploying mechanisation, scaling up operations and, in case of dairy sector, while they have access to superior animal genetics, management skills and a ready market for milk, they don’t have sufficient animal fodder. 

In the “re-engineered agriculture” era, we need to change the narrative of ASALs as a region of livestock production and view it as an agricultural region, where grass can be purposefully grown as a “crop” and not as “nyasi” (natural grass).

Secondly, let us shift focus from rain to soils.

ENOUGH RAINFALL

Even in seasons when there is enough rainfall, ASALs do not realise their full grass potential per acre because the soils are unhealthy.

It is important to note that the effects of unhealthy soils are self-perpetuating and, unless urgent intervention is made, desertification will kick in, resulting in further shrinking of grazing lands.

Thirdly, ASALs residents have a big the role to play in the re-engineered agriculture.

ASALs have had many drought-alleviating projects by the government, development agencies and NGOs. Many of these projects have not survived past the launching phase.

In comparison, the community-owned RAE (Rehabilitation of Arid Environments) Charitable Trust in Baringo County, residents are grateful because they have seen a remarkable change in the grass potential of their land, for a long term considered a desert.

DONOR PROJECTS

The project has goodwill, ownership and longevity — factors that are essential for the success of any project and are, unfortunately, lacking in the government and donor projects.

Forth, the national and county governments have a crucial role.

In ASALs, peace, security and social development are in one form or the other based on availability of grass. Indeed, the President can make improving the grass yields in ASALs his signature project and be a hands-on patron.

ANNE MUNENE, Laikipia.