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September 23, 2018

Food security and laptops fate

Laptop vs food
Laptop vs food

One of the gainsaid planks of the Jubilee regime, food security, will aid national inclusion if it considers areas hitherto excluded from the political centre. But there can be no food security if Kenyans still rely largely on rain-fed agriculture.

Climate change demands new thinking. It comes with unpredictable rainfall patterns, rising water scarcity, dust storms, degraded environment and soaring temperatures. A turnaround invites a visionary leadership that acts beyond flaunting state power to muzzle the excluded.

Nyanza and Western do not usually appeal for relief food. Even during the worst of times, they have tended to be self-reliant. But the resilience of Dala and Ingo is under threat. The year 2018 may expose their vulnerability to food insecurity. The resilience confirms a potential for increased food production. This is doable if the promised official intervention works. This pillar should not fizzle out like the promised laptops for standard one pupils.

The pre-2013 election promise was downgraded to a pilot tablet project for some schools. The promise of food security should not be another 10 million-acre irrigated maize production along Tana River. The Galana-Kulalu idea is wobbling.

Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya counties face hard times. Busia county is not safe either. Food imports from Uganda and Tanzania offer a short-term relief, but, with political will, a permanent solution is possible.

Karachuonyo constituency in Homa Bay is a case study of the worst scenario, and a possible turnaround. Crops have failed here for four seasons over the two years ending December 31. Cotton, groundnuts, and sunflowers died as cash crops 20 years ago. Poor rains and lack of market are blamed.

The year 2015 was the worst for peasants on the Homa Hills in Homa Bay. Livestock, the peasants’ mainstay, died in great numbers. The stoic peasants panicked. Homesteads that had cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys were casualties of rogue nature. Sources of water, within a distance of seven kilometres, dried up. There was no pasture.

Schoolchildren would wake up at 3am to join their mothers in the trek for water. Cases of sexual harassment soared, as women and children walked in the dark for hours to fetch muddy water. School dropouts peaked.

Men trekked for miles in enveloping dust, with their famished livestock, in search of water. Old men got depressed as they watched their livestock die. Some elderly peasants broke limbs, and died, as they walked animals for miles looking for water and pasture. Those who could raise Sh25,000 per seven-tonne lorry, imported sugarcane suckers from Kisii or Sakwa, Awendo, about 60km away.

Carcasses littered village paths. The air had a deathly odour. But dogs and vultures were jubilant. The scavengers fed on the sumptuous carcasses. The season of death was named ‘Guok Ka Guok Kod Dhere (Every Dog Had a Carcass to Feast On)’.

Perennial drought in West Karachuonyo hit the headlines in March 2014, during a media campaign to call attention to the plight of this impoverished community. The only source of water then, and now, is the half-done Kobondo Dam.

The dam is the initiative of the community and retired Anglican Church of Kenya Bishop Haggai Nyang’. The Bishop Emeritus deserves a presidential merit award for community service. The mini-dam serves 18,000 people during drought. Drought comes five months a year, peaking into desperate conditions from January to March. The number of water-starved people sometimes hits 25,000, spread across three electoral wards —- West Karachuonyo, Kibiri and North Karachuonyo.

There is an opportunity for reclaiming 12 dry gullies, which have destroyed about 100,000 acres of land, for increased food production. The gullies can be dammed for water harvesting and storage for irrigation.

The dry riverbeds, running down the scenic Homa Hills, result from years of environmental neglect and soil erosion. Damming them will aid environmental conservation, while laying the foundation for food security.

Reclaiming Homa Hills requires huge infrastructure outlay, which is possible with government intervention. There is capital — the missing link is political will to include the excluded.

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