What you need to know:
- Residents of Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Baringo are living through hell.
- There is no water and women have to walk as far as seven kilometres in search of it.
Although President Uhuru Kenyatta recently declared the drought currently ravaging several counties a national disaster, one cannot guess from the general demeanour of most Kenyans, and certainly not that of our leading politicians, that there is an emergency. Seems that if it is not directly affecting you, then it does not exist.
But the grim reality is that residents of Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Baringo are living through hell. A Nation report last week detailed the pain, despair and death that residents of Wajir, and particularly children and their mothers, confront daily.
“With the kind of situation we are in now, mothers are giving anything available to the children just to calm the hunger . . . including boiling sweet potato leaves and even eating feeds meant for domestic animals,” a doctor is quoted as saying in that report.
There is just no food and it does not appear that there will be any soon. Animals are dying. There is no water and women have to walk as far as seven kilometres in search of it. It is surreal, but tragically real.
As could be expected, humanitarian agencies have rushed in to help. Save the Children Fund, for example, and organisations like Unicef, have moved in to deliver supplies to communities. The agency is registering households that will receive Sh5,000 each for the next three months.
Of course there are thousands of desperate households in the counties and many more thousands of children starving. A lot more will be needed in the short term to mitigate the effect of the drought but that certainly is not going to provide a long-term solution to this cyclical problem.
A significantly more ominous reality is that counties that for years have taken rain and plentiful food for granted are showing signs of distress.
The North Rift counties, Nyanza and the lower rift areas, which for many years had enough rains coming at predictable times, are grappling with the strange reality of food insecurity. These are warning signs that unless the entire food value is addressed to inject resilience, predictability and sustainability in it, the hunger threat will remain ever-present.
Our farmers need to be made aware of the impact of climate change, their contribution to it and the responses that they should be adopting. Hundreds of development organisations around the world are making a strong case for farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices that will increase their yields and protect the environment. They are being educated about the changing weather patterns and the implications on times for planting and harvesting. But these efforts are not sufficient.
Policy changes that will encourage and reward farmers and food producers that practice sustainable farming should be introduced.
Comprehensive extension schemes must be reintroduced to complement initiatives like Agra’s extensive network of village-based advisers, who have been found to be very effective in educating farmers on practices that boost their harvest while protecting the soils.
Fertilisers and other inputs must be made available at affordable prices. But perhaps the one area where government intervention is urgently needed is in environmental protection. It is immoral and criminal not to discourage actions that destroy the environment – cutting trees, defacing parks and beaches, polluting rivers by introducing effluent or chemical waste into them, etc. This is happening all around us.
The Cherangany forest cover has been shaved off, the Mau is dry-eyed, denying life-giving water to the many rivers originating there.
To blame lack of policy for this unacceptable situation is incorrect. Policies exist. It is the implementation that is pathetic. Politicians pass the laws and then do everything they can to frustrate implementation because of political interests. It has happened in the Mau.
Politics has destroyed the value chains of maize, sugar cane, tea, and many other crops.
It is no wonder, therefore, that not one of the politicians currently seeking to lead this country has agriculture, climate and environmental protection as the centerpiece of their campaigns. Glib messages about helping farmers to improve productivity are very quickly buried under populist and unrealistic promises of building more roads, schools, hospitals, etc. Essentially, it is a promise to borrow even more to invest in infrastructure.
This is because we have politicians, not leaders. Leaders know that it takes serious hard work and extraordinary discipline to develop a country. Our politicians are happy to lie or be co-opted into the lazy system of corruption and unaccountability rather than walk away until the people of Kenya understand and demand from leadership investments that will tame droughts and bequeath future generations a country that can feed them.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi