Kenya must learn from others


Daily Nation (Kenya)
Opinion – by Allan Ngugi
May 21 2009

IT IS QUITE PUZZLING HOW FAR some politicians are ready to go to oppose or negate everything that ought to be done to rid this country of the shameful, perennial scourge of drought, famines, and high food prices.

Even as it becomes clear that rainfall has continued dwindling for two or so decades now, there are those myopic politicians and their adherents who have made it their prime job to ensure the status quo remains.

They don’t worry about the destruction of forests, and they resolutely oppose all efforts to save or restore water catchment areas that give life to both humans and wildlife.

Saving the Mau and other forests is not on their cards. When the country joins up with the Sahara, they will find some ‘‘historical injustice’’ to heap blame on.

On their part, anti-biotechnology advocates have been putting up a spirited fight against genetically modified crops, casting them as some sort of Frankenstein monsters without ever telling us how many people these crops have killed where they are widely grown.

Is it better to die of starvation than to eat genetically modified crops?

Others, fronted by non-governmental organisations, have opposed the development of agro-related endeavours in the fertile Tana River Delta, the ever-flooded Kano plains, or even horticulture-growing in Naivasha.

The government itself has never taken the development of modern agriculture seriously, perennially giving it one of the lowest budget allocations only to wake up to the realities of impending starvation and then holding out the begging bowl.

Yet many countries, some of them just recently poor and backward, have done the exact opposite. Not only have they moved to address land use issues, many have embraced all forms of agro-technology.

THESE INCLUDE MECHANISATION, irrigation, use of hybrid seeds, water harvesting, providing a mixture of chemical and green crop nutrients, efficient storage and marketing systems, and application of scientific farming methods.

Israel, Holland, Egypt, India, and closer home, Malawi come to mind. Israel is fabled for its extraordinary feat of turning its rocky sliver of land into a virtual greenland in less than 30 years.

The Israelis used all the combinations mentioned above. It has pioneered irrigation systems that have made it the world’s third largest horticultural producer (ironically Kenya is first), but its genetically modified oranges, mangoes and bananas are some of the most delicious fruits in the world.

Besides applying drip irrigation technology, the Jewish state has perfected the art of water management to the point where they harvest the little rain they get and siphon it to underground wells or straight to the water tables, a mile or so underneath.

The Dutch are renowned for not only using their equally small land to produce the world’s highest quality breed dairy cattle, most raised in pens that are less than 1/8th of an acre. They are the innovators of turning whole seas into arable lands.

Egypt is 90 per cent desert but its part of the Nile Valley all the way to the delta has maintained this ancient civilisation ever since the Pharaonic times.

As a result, it has been able to feed its almost 70 million people, and also export huge quantities of rice, sugar, wheat and other products.

What excuse does Kenya have?

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