Kenya Must Focus on the Heroes of Food Security


Islamic terrorists murdered more than 60 people and injured more than 200 at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 21—a day that the United Nations has marked as “International Day of Peace” for more than three decades. Al-Shabab, a radical group based in Somalia, immediately claimed credit for the atrocity.

Now my countrymen want to know: How could this have happened? Why does Kenya deserve this violence?

It’s something we’ve asked before, in the bloodshed that followed our presidential election in 2007, when as many as 1,500 people died, and fifteen years earlier in the bombing of the U.S. embassy, a deadly incident that first brought the name Osama bin Laden to the attention of the American public.

At times like these, we tend to focus on those who commit these crimes—and ask how to prevent the next atrocity. In a well-received column for the Daily Nation, my country’s leading newspaper, Kenya’s Vision 2030 CEO, Mugo Kibati suggested that we improve the pay and working conditions of Kenya’s police force. “Our security infrastructure is glaringly wanting,” he wrote.

We must think bigger, too.

There’s no such thing as national security without food security. Africa has countless problems, but many of them would be diminished if only we produced more food. I’m convinced that if our continent did a better job of feeding itself, we wouldn’t suffer so much violence.

So in addition to concentrating on the villains of the Westgate Mall massacre, we should focus on the heroes of food security. Let me tell you about three.

In two weeks, at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, Dr. Charity Kawira Mutegi, a 38-year-old Kenyan scientist, will receive the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. It honors researchers under the age of 40 who demonstrate “the scientific innovation and dedication to food security” that animated the life of Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for pioneering the “Green Revolution”.

Dr. Mutegi has led efforts to solve the problem of aflatoxicosis, a mold that can contaminate grain. In 2004 and 2005, it was responsible for 125 deaths in eastern Kenya. Mutegi discovered the source of the outbreak and developed a method to prevent future calamities: By introducing non-toxic strains of the fungus that out-compete the toxic strains, farmers can fight aflatoxicosis at an affordable price and in an environmentally safe way.

I’ve attended the World Food Prize before. The annual gathering offers an excellent opportunity for farmers from around the world to get together and compare notes. I’m going again this year, and look forward to recognizing Mutegi and her accomplishments.

Another hero of food security is Miriam Kinyua, a Kenyan University of Eldoret professor who has overseen a project to defeat wheat rust, a disease that can destroy entire fields of crops. Using a technique called “mutation breeding,” which exposes seeds to radiation and hastens the natural process of mutation, she developed several lines of wheat that resist wheat rust. Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture has approved two for commercial use, and six tons of the specialized wheat seeds are now becoming available for our next planting season.

Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who once led the United Nations is another hero of food security. Unlike Mutegi and Kinyua, he is a household name. He currently chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a group based in Kenya. A month ago, it issued a report that applauded the potential of agricultural biotechnology—and described opposition to genetically modified crops as a “farce.”

Only four African countries have commercialized GM crops, though five more, including Kenya, are currently engaged in field trials.

African countries should rethink their skepticism of GM crops, says AGRA: “It is important to point out that GM crops have been subject to more testing worldwide than any other new crops, and have been declared as safe as conventionally bred crops by scientific and food safety authorities worldwide.”

Annan is one of the world’s most influential Africans. His group’s support of biotechnology will be indispensible as our continent tries to improve its food security.

Let’s hope the world is listening.

Gilbert arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya.  He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus.  Mr. Bor is the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network ( Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Gilbert arap Bor

Gilbert arap Bor

Gilbert arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya. Dr Bor is also a lecturer of marketing and management at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus. Gilbert received the 2011 GFN Kleckner Global Farm Leader award and volunteers as a member of the Global Farmer Network Advisory Council.

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