What lies beneath and Petrichor

In Summary

• Water levels in the River Elbe dropped so far that “hunger stones” were revealed – carved boulders used since the 1400s to commemorate droughts and warn of their consequences.

• These unburials also disrupt simple notions of Earth history as orderly in sequence, with the deepest down being the furthest back.

Obonyo Ombati fetches water from river Kuja at Ogembo in Kisii county yesterday. Water levels in the major river in the area has greatly dropped due to the ongoing drought
Obonyo Ombati fetches water from river Kuja at Ogembo in Kisii county yesterday. Water levels in the major river in the area has greatly dropped due to the ongoing drought
Image: BENSON NYAGESIBA

I am reading an Article by Robert Macfarlane headlined What lies beneath. The Article begins ''We live in an age of untimely surfacings'' and continues ''The same month, water levels in the River Elbe dropped so far that “hunger stones” were revealed – carved boulders used since the 1400s to commemorate droughts and warn of their consequences. One of the stones bears the inscription “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” (If you see me, weep)''

These unburials also disrupt simple notions of Earth history as orderly in sequence, with the deepest down being the furthest back. Epochs and periods are mixing and entangling. “The problem,” writes the archaeologist Þóra Pétursdóttir, “is not that things become buried far down in strata – but that they endure, outlive us, and come back at us with a force we didn’t realise they had, a dark force of ‘sleeping giants’,” roused from their deep-time slumber.

As we scan the sky for rain clouds and sniff the air greedily for the smell of Petrichor [Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɪkɔːr/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek petra (πέτρα), meaning "stone", and īchōr (ἰχώρ), the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology] Petrichor odour "... was due to the presence of organic substances closely related to the essential oils of plants ..." and that these substances consist of "... the fragrance emitted by thousands of flowers ..." absorbed into the pores of the soil, and only released when displaced by rain. After attempts to isolate it, he found that it "... ap­peared to be very similar to, if not identical with, bromo-cedren, derived from essence of cedar." These are indeed human instincts that have been with us I am sure since the beginning of time. Today some of us might dial up Accuweather or some such Platform in order to inform of us of what our [once] finely tuned bodies already understand at an elemental level. Sifting that original and ancient Signal from the c21st Noise is surely the problem. It is surely a fact that the Age of The Machine, the Smart Phone and Algorithms has blunted our ability to listen to Nature and we are evidently tone deaf not unlike those Folks on the sidewalk who would quite likely bump straight into you whilst studying a Tweet. The reason ''Petrichor'' comes to my mind is surely that in the current ''rainy'' season of very light and occasional showers, I am being in fact assailed by multiple releases of the odour.

Last week I was listening to Dr. Patrick Njoroge the Governor of the Central Bank who was visiting Washington for the IMF World Bank Spring meeting and took the opportunity to do some ''Investor Relations'' work on our behalf. Dr. Njoroge advocates our Position with coherence and conviction and he performs an invaluable Task, which practically no one else does, in fact. Dr. Njoroge spoke of the lack of rain as posing up to a 1% risk on FY 2019 GDP. One of the functions of an Investor Relations exercise is you put your best Foot Forward but in my experience drought episodes have typically taken bigger chunks out of our GDP and there is a powerful negative feedback loop effect. Our Food Price Profile is actually high beta [with an observable Price Gouging Bias] , so the first thing that happens is Food Prices start climbing. Already our Food Import Bill has started to spike. This then feeds into inflation which then poses a monetary policy question. Professor Ndungu [Dr. Njoroge's predecessor] in 2011 argued that it was not a function of monetary policy to respond to such a situation. The markets disavowed him of that notion in 2011 and you will recall that rates were forced as high as 24% before the situation was brought back under control. Economists like NN Taleb might characterise what I am outlining as ''Tail Risks'' Tail risk is the additional risk of an asset or portfolio of assets moving more than 3 standard deviations from its current price, above the risk of a normal distribution.[1] Tail risk is sometimes defined less strictly, as merely the risk (or probability) of rare events. Taleb made his Fortune and name correctly betting that the market was mispricing ''Tail Risks'' or we can call it ''haywire'' risk. All the available evidence is informing us that the ''Weather'' Tail risk is seriously elevated on a near term, medium term and long term basis and in a very non-linear outcome Africa has 18 out of the 20 most climate affected Countries.

Returning to Kenya. Last Year good rains meant that Agriculture was a serious Tail-Wind. From our Horticulturists to our Tea Farmers, to our Small-Holder Farmers, everyone did well. Importantly, Agriculture has an important economic diffusion effect because of the volume of Stakeholders. The Shilling which had traded double digits not too long ago and for the first time in a number of years is back around the 101.00 level and the market anticipates additional food imports. It appears that President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are travelling to visit Xi Jinping together [a condition precedent of further loans it seems post FOCAC and in order to reduce Chinese Political risk exposure and I am sure its front and centre given how much they are on the hook for in Venezuela for example] to ask for a multibillion shilling increase for the extension of the SGR to Kisumu. Tax collection data [and more importantly the Public response which is as negative as I have ever witnessed] is signalling the pips are squeaking and that collections are now maxed out. Sure the Eurobond [predicted as soon as the IMF rolls over the Insurance Facility] will kick the can down the road. Whether You call it luck or You call it resilience, lets hope ours does not run out.