KENYANS FOR KENYA:Why it needs to be long term.

No Kid Hungry is a  campaign that aims at ensuring no child in America goes without food,the national spokesperson and founder for End hunger network   is actor Jeff Bridges.On their website they ask people to donate at least a dollar that will go towards seeing a child receive up to 10 healthy meals.Already over 53,000 peole have signed up for the campaign and it is definitely set to attract more people.

In Kenya we have had the KenyansforKenya initiative started by the private sector, that has seen over 600,000 peole in a country of over 40 million donate in cash and kind to the appeal that was began to feed hungry Kenyans in northern Kenya.When the campaign started i tweeted that i hoped this would not be a short term strategy but that the initiators of this fund drive would find a way to make it long term.The same calls for long term solutions to hunger issues were raised when the private sector held a fund raising at one of the upmarket hotels in the capital city Nairobi last week.The intiative almost hit its halfa billion shillingtarget and you can read more about the drive here.

Now in an earlier article on the current food crisis  i detailed how i made a trip round the rift valley and saw acres and acres of farmland under maize crop .How i drove by little towns ,where market women and men sat by mounds of vegetables and cobs of green maize and potatoes waiting for buyers.Yet we were busy importing maize from outside the country to stem the deficit that is the cause of the hike in food prices especially of maize.Many people reading this who are not familiar with the Kenyan diet will wonder at our obsession with maize or corn as it is called in certain parts of the world.But maize meal is to Kenyans what pasta is to the Italians,so you can imagine the kind of crisis precipitated when  the precious commodity runs out.

While appreciating the good work and generosity Kenyans and friends of Kenya have shown in supporting the campaign i hope there are long term measures by both the public and private sector to see that we have an initiative along the lines of No kid Hungry.This will ensure that no Kenyan child will sleep hungry or miss school because they lacked a nourishing and  satisfying meal at the end of the day.

School feeding program is already in place in some parts of the country where children attending school at least get some food when they are in session.These programmes are funded by both government and international donors.

If such programs like these can be expanded such that the most vulnerable members of our society and especially children are guaranteed a meal or even three meals every day it would go along way towards ensuring that the countrys’ future citizens are given a chance to  grow and thrive.

When all is said and done each of us owes it to future generations,whether we have children or not to ensure that we leave this country a better place than we found it.This includes making sure another generation of Kenyans do not grow up knowing the ravages and pangs of drought and hunger.Over to you Kenyans for Kenya team…… hope this is the beginning of a hunger free country.

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WHERE ARE KENYAN URBAN PLANNERS?

Kenya’s cities and towns seem to have no forethought put into them when it comes to their growth  whatsoever and we can blame this on our lack of urban planners whose job it would be to make decisions on how our cities and towns should develop.Of course each administrative council in the country be it ,a town council,municipal council has a department of urban planning but it is questionable if their advice is even sought if the rate at which thoughtless developments are taking place is anything to go by.

In an earlier blog post here  in April of this year i had lamented the fact that the real estate industry was threatening the very livelihood of our country by encroaching on agricultural land .Housing estates are coming up left ,right,centre in every major town in the country,the situation is especially sad in Nakuru because people are selling off rich agricultural land .In areas that should be the source of food and livelihoods,people are looking for the quick shilling to be made by subdividing the land and selling it off to Kenyans who have suddenly got a voracious appetite to be home owners.Sad indeed….

If we indeed do have  urban planners in some of these towns am sure they should be  at the fore front of managing the now free for all real estate industry that is slowly becoming a cash cow for the well heeled in terms of money.Land has always and will always remain an emotive issue but i think prioritizing our needs and wants should be key.Would you rather live in an Italian  marble palace or go to bed with a full stomach.These are some of the questions we should be asking our selves.

Our cities and towns are growing daily with malls,office blocks and all manner of structures being put up daily,but how many of these have been well thought out ideas that take into consideration the growth of these towns and cities in the future.We are seeing most of these towns turning into concrete jungles with no thought given to recreation facilities like parks or even public utilities.

What is interesting to note is that for our cities and towns to grow we need to think not of today but 50 years ahead.In 2070,where will the residents of Nairobi be living,getting their water from,will there be enough electricity,sewage lines to cater for the cities population or will the city be another spot in the annals of history that was obliterated by a lack of planning.

Take the case of Nakuru that is said to be one of the fastest growing towns,how will the town;s growing population affect the environment around the lake,the deforestation in the Mau Forest that is threatening the very existence of Lake Nakuru,is there worse to come if we do not mange the way this town is growing?

These and many other questions can be replicated in the planning of the towns we envision to have by 2030 and that i think should be what urban planners (if we have any) should be asking themselves and advising the county governments set to come in after the general elections next year.

THE POLITICS OF FOOD ….

The world as we know it today is full of many contradictions  and none more so than in the distribution and availability of food.While people in the developed countries watch news items of starving children from Eastern Africa struggling to suckle at the breasts of their malnourished mothers,they are also some of the biggest wasters of food.It was reported in a UN study that you can read about here that an astonishing 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year,much of it in North America and Europe.If i may quote the study it stated that  the “estimated  per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year. “

It should be noted that most of these countries run relatively democratic governments while Africa and much of Asia is still struggling with this “D” word.This has led me to the  conclusion  that being a democratic,developed country is hinged very much on the country’s ability to feed itself.Right now much of the horn of  Africa is facing a food crisis,the worst in years. Africa is awash with foreign aid agencies who have come to our rescue because we have been unable to feed our people.If you look at the countries that are recipients of much of this food aid,their political and governance histories are always very colorful.A hungry man has no time to think about politics ,he would rather worry about where his next meal will come from because much of the population in these countries lives from hand to mouth.It is also why voters in most of the constituencies in these countries are easily swayed by the sight of a few dollars  that they can buy food with and that will assuage the pangs  of hunger they have suffered for days.

People in the West marvel at the kind of leaders we elect sometimes,yet they forget that they so readily give us food aid with conditions attached or as reward for good behaviour(meaning we kowtowed to what they demanded of us).As long as countries are still receiving food aid they will not know democracy and good governance.So long as people are electing leaders based on their oratory skills and popularity  and not leadership and integrity then we will be seeing the pictures of starving children in Northern Kenya till kingdom come.It is also true that as long as food aid is given not out of a sense of altruism but as a reward for “good behaviour” or as a way for donor countries to have their way in the recipient countries then Africa will not know what it is like to be free to feed and rule itself.

If i had a magic wand i would pass it over the countries that have for years been the recipients of food aid in  the arid and semi arid areas of the Eastern part of Africa.I would make the deserts of Northern Kenya, lush and green with food crops,flowing with life giving water from streams and rivers so that the women and men of this part of the world  do not have to trek for miles in search of food or water .Their cows would be plump with health,their coats glowing with nourishment and their udders full of milk so that we do not have to see the picture of another starving child.Then they would know the joy of electing a man  or woman who will not give them fish for a day but will show them how to fish too so that they never know what hunger pangs  or food aid is…ever again.

However magic only happens in fairy tales and not in real life and so i am hoping that common sense prevails and that in the coming elections people vote with their heads and not their stomachs or emotions.We need to elect leaders who are able to think outside of the confines of the “box”.People who would love to see Kenyans free of the shackles of foreign aid which have made us puppets in the hands of donors.Food aid never allowed anyone to think beyond their stomachs……..

AND THEN GOD CREATED FARMERS…….

After God and mothers,farmers have to be the most important people on this planet, without whom we would not be alive today.Am sure all the politicians,philosophers,religious leaders,musicians and plastic surgeons must be  disappointed to think that we cannot live without them but it is true.Farmers provide the food ( fuel) that we use to run our frail human bodies and without which like all living things we would die

Agriculture has played a very important role in the development of human civilization as we know it today when man was able to domesticate plants and animals..This is especially so when you think about the Agrarian revolution that was responsible for much of the human settlements that have contibuted today to civilization.The US,Canada,France,Australia and Spain rank among the countries that export the most agricultural produce in the world,a map  showing  the top 10 countries  can be found here.These countries are also among the most developed which goes to show feeding yourself as a country and developemtn goes hand in hand.

Human beings can survive without mobile phones,ipods and ipads,cars,clothes and beer but no one can do without food and we owe the lives we have to the tenacity of farmers and their belief that feeding the human race is a noble thing to do.That is why farmers the world over are renowned for being early risers before the crack of dawn to ensure that the billions who populate the earth are fed.

As Eastern Africa faces the worst drought and famine in decades,we have put out our begging bowls and we are waiting for the west to come and fill them up with food to feed our starving children yet we have done little to improve the conditions of our farmers or make their work easier.Farmers are the last people government would think of consulting when they ordered for the GMO maize to stem the deficit that has seen the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour triple in the last 12 months.Being a Kenyan and having lived in a farming community for a while i have seen the grunt work that goes towards making sure that the  you get the packet of milk that makes part of your morning tea ,it takes a lot of work and dedication,visits from the veterinarian officer,and a lot of money sunk into a project which lives on faith and hope.Farmers are never guaranteed that the hard work they put in will be rewarded,the rains may fail,livestock may get sick or the price of seeds and fertilizer may sky rocket.

Last year when we saw a bumper harvest especially in the Rift Valley region that is considered  Kenya’s grain basket,the government must have been asleep because a lot of maize went to waste as farmers had their granaries full and there was no storage place for the surplus.Seeing that we have never put up any grain storage facilities since independence yet we are growing at the rate of one million every year the national silos were full and there is never any place we can store surplus.Fast forward 12 months later and we are in a  crisis ,the country has no maize reserves and we have to look for the precious grain elsewhere.Our fondness for ugali (a dough like mixture of water and maize meal/cornflour) can only be rivalled by our love for tea and it is disconcerting that many Kenyan household have been forced to forgo this delicacy and have to resort to alternatives that are easier on the pocket but certainly not as filling.

As much as our country seeks to be a middle income economy by the year 2030 and continues to shout from the rooftops that it is ready for investment ,can it feed itself?Farming has always been shunned because it does not carry the prestige of a blue collar or white collar job that entails sittng in an office  and drinking copious amounts of coffee and samosas without any thought as to how they landed on your desk.Our farmers are the most important resource we have.We cannot boast of being a regional super power when our farmers cannot afford a bag of fertilizer that goes for kshs 1500($20).

What is even more saddening is that government seems to be blind to the encroachment of fertile agricultural land that is being turned into real estate.I had written an article about that here and the country  also lacks  policies that could govern land use and ensure that we safeguard agricultural land.It seems we are more concerned with living in palatial homes complete with Italian marble rather than in feeding our children.

How many Kenyans know that April 17th is International Farmers day,we know of a Father’s day,Mothers day heck we even celebrate Halloween but you will not catch a Kenyan celebrating farmers day,hell would soon freeze over before we do that.We need to start appreciating these men and women and even children who put the food we enjoy at our dinner tables.The government needs to make life easier for the Kenyan farmer.There are some insurance companies like APA that are providing farmers with insurance cover but more needs to be done.We need to ensure our farmers are able to transport their produce to the markets by having better roads and improving our rail transport.We need to invest time and money in ensuring that our farmers get access to information that will see them employ  the best farming practices to ensure they get good yields from their crops and livestock.

I am yet to hear any of the presidential candidates talk about how they are going to tackle the perennial grain shortage in the country,how they will improve the condition of the Kenyan farmer or even what policies they are going to put in place  to ensure that the Kenyan farmers life is made just a little bit easier.

We need to hear how the next government is going to tackle the never ending cycle of begging for food aid every year.It is a shame that a country such as ours so richly blessed with agricultural land is unable to feed itself ,yet countries like Israel and Egypt which are less endowed are not only able to feed their people but export food to other countries.How many times have we heard of the government investing in agriculture except when it is to subsidize fertilizer?

We need the next cabinet secretary in charge of the ministry of agriculture to  be passionate about feeding Kenyans.We need a Joseph to save us from the looming famine that is staring us in the face every year,we need a visionary man or woman who is going to drive this sector of the economy forward.

If you ask any Kenyan school going children if they ever want to be a farmer,none of them dare answer in the affirmative.Everyone wants to be in IT,own a business and drive a flashy car without getting their hands dirty.Yet we fail to ask ourselves what we will be eating in the comfort of our air conditioned offices,busy with making our country the next big thing in the business process outsourcing industry .Will we be exporting our food?

Granted there are a few brave Kenyans who have ventured into agriculture as a side hustle while they maintain regular jobs in the urban centres but this is not enough to be able to feed the growing population of Kenyans.

A country that cannot feed itself is a shame to the rest of the world,a country that cannot support its farmers is like a man who forgets his mother in the village when he gets to the big city.Yes it is true next to mothers ,farmers come a close second.

WHY KENYANS ARE STILL DYING OF HUNGER

Kenya is an interesting country to live in,while some Kenyans  acquire the latest tech gizmo’s and fuel guzzlers,almost 2 million Kenyans in the arid and semi arid areas in Samburu are dying of hunger.All the signs were there last year but as usual we were to busy trying to make it big to notice the bumper harvest we had last year which if we had employed measures to store the extra bags of maize,wheat farmers harvested and the tonnes of milk that even had us experience a milk glut and which saw gallons go down the drain at the  state owned Kenya Co operative Creameries,we would not be seeing the national shame that drought and hunger have now become.

In September of last year,the meteorological department issued a warning that 2011 would be a hard year for us because we would have less rain therefore planning should have begun then.But as usual warnings here are never taken seriously till we see the scrawny Samburu residents on national TV with even reports of death now coming in.Just a few days into June there are already reports of five people in Samburu who have died of hunger,full details of the crisis can be read here.

On the 8th of June ,we had the budget read ,things like wheat ,maize and rice were zero rated and this is meant to cushion hungry Kenyans who are already paying through the nose for basic food commodities.In Kenya fuel determines what you are going to pay for your packet of milk or for a 2 kilo packet of cornflour.At the moment global prices have been on the rise and so the ordinary Kenyan has had to dig deeper into their pocket to feed themselves and their families.Maize(cornflour),wheat flour and rice are staples in most Kenyan households and the direction their prices take whether north or south determine whether a child will go to bed well fed or sleep hungry.

It puzzles me that in an era where we have all manner of warning systems,where information is at our finger tips we still have the same problem we had back in the 80’s when the internet,mobile phones and satellites that track global weather pattern were non existent.Why are we failing our people,when they all die of hunger who are our leaders going to be leading ?

Maybe a time will come   when no single Kenyan dies of hunger,where children,men and women will not have to boil wild berries to assuage the pangs of hunger,where planning for crisis will be a habit and not an afterthought  and where we will not watch food go to waste while the rest of the country starves.I pray for a time where every Kenyan child will go to bed with a full stomach and not with the sickening knowledge that when dawn comes the biting stabs of an empty tummy will have them staring into space with no hope for the future.

Real Estate threatening Agricultural land.

Vision 2030 is the grandiose dream crafted by technocrats detailing how Kenya is meant to develop into a middle income economy providing high quality life to its citizens.So far we have not achieved much of what the plan envisages and we have just 19 years left.

Anyone who has been following the real estate boon in the economy will have noticed that property business seems to be all the rage now.Every Kenyan wants to own a home and astute businessmen are quickly cashing in on these and buying out previously fertile agricultural land and turning it into thriving concrete neighborhoods .

There is no better example of this than along Thika road where with the promise of a super highway ,the quintessential Kenyan obsession for plots have tripled the price of land on either side of the highway.Along the Nakuru Eldoret highway starting from the area jut after Kiamunyi in Nakuru,residential estates have sprouted on land that was previously used as grazing ground for cattle.One wonders if the government is really keen on the plight of the Kenyan farmers and how the country expects to feed the one million new mouths being added onto the population yearly.People in Rongai once a bustling ground for wildlife no longer find it strange to bump into lions lazily snoring away in the middle of the road as they drive out of their compounds.If the government is unable to control development in wildlife areas which are a major tourist attraction how much hope is there for the farmer whose daily life of toil and hardship is hardly ever headline news.

In the online publication of new agriculturist the Dr Romano Kiome the PS of Agriculture was quoted as saying that “as individuals and big investors take advantage of the expansion of infrastructure, the sudden shift in land use could result in the disappearance of productive agricultural lands which could in turn affect food security and economic growth, as well as derail the revival of agricultural business industries.”

The government needs to act fast and implement policies that safeguard agricultural land while promoting development in land that is not agriculturally viable.If this does not happen then in a few years we will have a Kenya full of concrete,beautiful houses,landscaped gardens and great but one that cannot feed itself.