PROPHYLACTICS vs HUNGER:Where do our priorities lie?

“Hunger: One of the few cravings that cannot be appeased with another solution.”
Irwin Van Grove

If media reports are to be believed the Kenyan government has given full support to the proposed condom factory set to start operations before the end of the year.The issue is so urgent we have had to ask for donor assistance to meet the condom shortage that was experienced in the country a few weeks back.Thankfully the crisis was averted when a shipment of the vital commodity arrived in Mombasa a few days ago.

It is interesting that this shortage only came to light after media highlights of the issue in Samburu where residents were using paper bags as prophylactics.The irony of the situation was that the larger Isiolo is an arid area and it would be more reasonable for the residents to be asking the government to fast track development of infrastructure in the area or build better equipped schools and hospitals.But the residents were captured on camera requesting for government intervention on the condom crisis they were facing.This was all happening in an area that has featured in the news several times for being among areas that receive food aid from donor agencies.

The condom factory which is expected to create more jobs and spur the country towards industrialization is being set up at a time when the country is unable to feed itself.Maize which is a staple on most Kenyan households is heavily reliant on rainfall and we have seen the price of a single packet of 2kg maize flour hit the 90 shilling mark.A few years back there was a plan to subsidize the price of the precious commodity which failed and Kenyans will be facing the same predicament soon with the current increase in fuel prices which will raise the price of basic commodities.

While lauding the Ministry of Industrialization for wanting to spur economic growth we need to be asking if a condom factory is more important than constructing silos.Bulk storage of grain would see the country able to mitigate the shortage of cereals that always had us looking for donors to meet the deficit.This would not only save the government money in terms of imports but would also allow the money to be channeled to other uses such as equipping government hospitals.

Another option available would be for the government to boost the coffee sector by investing in value addition of this commodity that is experiencing global  prices being at an all time high.It is a pity that we do not export any processed coffee and that foreign companies buy Kenyan coffee and use it to make blends that are famous the world over.Coffee is fast becoming a lifestyle drink and even China which is a traditional tea drinking country is seeing an increase in the consumption of the drink.The trend is catching up fast and it has seen American enterprises like Starbucks raking in mega bucks.

It would be more feasible for the government to boost industries that would see an increase in the use of local raw materials.Kenya does not produce any natural rubber latex and the condom factory will have to import raw materials from the rubber producing countries. Brazil got it right when they built a condom factory in the heart of the Amazon and according to a report in the UK Guardian the factory would use latex manually extracted from the areas forest to manufacture at least 100 million condoms annually.

A hungry people will never think of anything much other than where their next meal will come from.Democracy,economic development,security,education will remain pipe dreams for a hungry nation.And Kenya will never see the growth to a middle income economy it hopes to be in the next few years if it is always employing stop gap measures to crisis.

One of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes states that “An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.”A hungry man will never think of anything other than where his next meal will come from,and this is true in most parts of Kenya.It looks great on paper to be talking about factories,super highways and ICT hubs but for the pastoralist in the arid and semi arid areas of the country it means nothing.

Economic growth for all citizens of this beautiful country will only be achieved once we are food secure.Lack of planning and well researched economic activities is what has seen us putting up white elephant where the government has lost billions in tax payers money.

It is my hope that the upcoming budget will see well thought out plans on spurring growth in these and other areas that we can reap the greatest returns from.It is only by employing well thought out ideas that we will see the bustling economy that has so far eluded us.

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