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Friday, 14 October 2011

The Anchor October 2011; Opinion

Drought Policy: Why do
we seem to get it all wrong?

By Mesh Musyoki

There was a time on this part of the world when leaders were defined and to a great extend guided by principles, vision and philosophy.

Those were the golden years a long time ago. Nowadays nepotism, cronyism, wanton corruption, selfish convenience, mediocre theatrics and empty talk best define our idea and reality of political leadership. Kenya is not quite short of intellectuals. In fact we have an oversupply of professionals. The tragedy is that it is this educated political class that is greedier than the cattle herders in the village.

 In Kenya today it is easier for an MP to buy his concubine a  Sh. 5 million house with your C.D.F money than to build a class room each in 5 different schools. That is the sad reality of what guides our general desire for leadership positions, to place us right inside the tunnel of public resources.

Let me ask a question: You can build a 3br house at a cost of Sh 5 million with the best finishes and quality materials inclusive of plot purchase. Why is it that if government builds the same type of house on its own land the cost is 10 million? Simple,  everyone in the entire chain is “eating” from the land broker, messenger, accountant, auditor,  including the construction supervisor.

 Consequently, the ripple effect of this is a higher tax bill for the common man and inadequate resources to fund development. Simply put, whatever government does in terms of development or infrastructural repairs, it can do double with the same money just that people have to eat. This is the source of half of our inflation. The rest is caused by poor planning, a bureaucratic business culture, systemic loops and ignorance. That draws the clear difference between us and the east Asian nations that were at the same level with us in 1963.

We have a regrettable education curriculum that over emphasizes on grades rather than imparting applicable knowledge that can practically be put to use in the economy.

We were taught for the primary objective of passing exams and a secondary half truth that excellence in education equals a good life parse’. That’s why a big part of our generation is desperately looking for employment, because very few of us can think outside the box or even dare put to gainful use all that knowledge gained in school.

We have an equally warped national development policy that over emphasizes on industrialization at the expense of agriculture without asking ourselves what those industry workers will eat. Fundamentally the backbone of our economy is agriculture and yet government is pointing to us elsewhere. This is part of why the developed world is classifying us as a failed state. We have all it takes but we choose to be helplessly confused on our priorities.

Somebody once asked: Like death and taxes, droughts are a certainty, so why not plan for them? Drought is a slow motion disaster. It comes with advance signs long before it becomes a reality. In that dry weather is now with us more regularly than any other weather condition, why haven’t we thought it necessary to develop a National Drought Policy as opposed to always dealing with drought as an emergency?

Our strategic approach as regards drought mitigation programs and activities is in some way silly, reactionary and mediocre. With all the economists in government and NGOs, hasn’t anyone been able o think around this on a long term sustainable approach? A borehole costs slightly over a million shillings to drill; a water boozer costs about Sh 4 million. The cheaper one actually provides a lasting solution in that its regular in terms of supply, has a lower maintenance bill, doesn’t need a permanent pensionable driver, has no insurance and has a bigger yield. Government opts to go the vehicle way simply because they want to go present it as a gift to starving people in Northern Kenya for political mileage.

Ukambani has two permanent rivers religiously draining water into the Indian Ocean. All these years government has never thought of damming them and rolling out mega irrigation projects to enhance agricultural activities both at commercial and peasant level. This is not rocket science!!!

Ethiopia is damming river Omo which is the main source of Lake Turkana so you can rest assured that soon that whole lake will be reduced to a dam. It’s the only main source of water on that side of the country and as yet this hasn’t yet got people in government thinking of the plight of those helpless people. The entire eco system will collapse, livelihoods will be destroyed, insecurity will rise, lives will be decimated and the entire economy of that region will collapse, enhancing our credentials of a failed State.

A trainee economist would tell you that if government released 1 million bags of maize at Sh. 2,500 per bag strictly to millers with an agreed formula on pricing, they would have contained the unga crisis then as life went on they would have replenished the strategic grain reserve either from local harvest or import. That way unga would not even exceed Sh. 95 per 2kg pack. What exactly does a miller put in to unga that would make 2kgs bought at about Sh. 50 retail at Sh 160? The simple arithmetic of pricing unga shows you why we have a runaway inflation. We simply don’t have regulations to safeguard against public exploitation and all our businesses are actually designed on this rip-off mentality.

Extreme hunger has a way of undermining human dignity. This has never dawned on our government and I don’t understand how regular death by starvation has become in our nation. It saddens me to see an entire starving family paraded before a T.V. camera appealing for dietary assistance. I have sever times seen bare-chested women so ravaged by hunger that their nakedness doesn’t quite bother them anymore.

There are people in our republic probably drinking animal urine and eating wild tubers and fruits in a desperate measure to hold on to their dear lives. I have severally said that part of containing the hunger menace in Kenya is emphasis on population control. There are ways of enhancing self regulation in this sector or soon we may all be malnourished in our endeavor to save each other from malnutrition due to population explosion that will out strip our resources.

 We need to conduct civic education in our population to bring them to understand that if we are to have a decent well nourished, productive life then we really have no option but to be careful on how we go about our bed room gymnastics.

Must we eat ugali?? Millet, Sorghum, Cassava, rice etc are alternatives that we were consuming long before ugali came which are still viable alternatives. We have developed a national diet culture that is no longer sustainable. This is what has led us in to digging ourselves deeper into our unga problem. When we heard that there is a shortage of maize we all rushed to buy unga for our fear that we may miss our next plate of ugali.

 This panic buying reaction hinged on the supply and demand equation of a free market pushed the prices through the roof. We are in part victims of our own actions. How many of us are directly involved in any farming activity? If we aren’t, then who are we expecting will farm for us? So how will unga get to the super market shelf if we all left our shambas and came to idle in town??

The G.M.O debate is a baseless charade by civil society to gain relevance. Genetic modification is the process by which scientists develop high yielding crops that are drought tolerant and take shorter time to mature. Isn’t that what we set up KARI to do?? I’m yet to see any proof that GMO maize has indeed harmed anyone in any part of the world. We even have organizations distributing genetically modified maize seeds here in Kenya. Who really is fooling who? Is the maize grown in laboratories or Pluto?

We may soon have to start enacting an export moratorium on maize else we will be in this hunger pendulum endlessly. Tanzania does it and so far they haven’t had any mass hunger problems lately. In fact they still have a lot of maize that by law they are barred from exporting to Kenya until the next crop is ripe. We long exported our maize to Sudan and surprisingly they also right now don’t have a hunger problem like we do. We may soon have to shift from the puritan capitalist economic system if we are to adequately deal with some of our social challenges.

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