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

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION - Magesha Ngwiri is a con­sul­tant edi­tor. an­drewng­wiri@gmail.com

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 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. 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.

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. 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. 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 pol­icy-mak­ers.

To­day, maize farm­ers in the North Rift, which is Kenya’s grain bas­ket, are la­ment­ing. Af­ter a long pe­riod of drought, army worm 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.

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 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”

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