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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kenya's Darkest Days Still Stalk Her-Pictures by Boniface Mwangi


Sunday, February 24, 2013

We Must Build a Sustainable and Equitable Global Food System

Nearly 1 billion people, a majority of them smallholder farmers, are chronically hungry and malnourished. According to Oxfam International, the poor spend 50-80% of their meager earnings on food. A report published by UNICEF in 2009 concluded that because of low caloric intake and poor nutrition, the next generation of Kenyans would be shorter, less intelligent and less productive.

High food prices and supply volatilities have caused significant declines in daily nourishment levels. A World Bank report published in 2011 estimated that the global food price spikes in 2008 pushed 44 million people below the poverty line, most of them in developing countries.

The global food system faces a growing convergence of complex interconnected environmental problems; including challenges like a bulging global middle class, climate change, land degradation and the more serious threat to the survival of the biodiversity and ecosystems services upon which agriculture and the wider economy depends.

It is estimated that 2 million hectares of rainfed and irrigated agricultural lands are lost to production every year due to severe land degradation, among other factors. But it takes approximately 500 years to replace 25 millimeters of topsoil lost to erosion.  Approximately 30% of the world's cropland has become unproductive over the last 40 years due to land degradation. 75% of the genetic diversity of crop plants has been lost in the past century. Ninety percent of the world's food is derived from just 15 plant and 8 animal species.

According to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012, food production needs to increase by 60% over the next 40 years to meet the rising global demand for food. The continued production of adequate food supplies is directly dependent on ample quantities of fertile soil, fresh water, energy, and natural biodiversity.  According to the 2013 World Economic Report food and nutrition security is a major global concern as the world prepares to feed a growing population on a dwindling resource base, in an era of increased volatility and uncertainty.

How far our population has overshot the planet’s long-term carrying capacity is approximated by ecological footprint analysis. Ecological footprint analysis shows that to support the current population of seven billion, with current production technology and consumption levels of the United States of America, would require an additional four to five more Earths.

Adding the projected 2.5 billion more of our kind by 2050 would make the human ecological footprint on planet’s life-support systems disproportionately worse. The boisterous optimism of many analysts regarding our ability to feed billions more is unnerving. If it is trivial to feed billions more, why are millions undernourished and chronically hungry today? 

Could a breakdown in the planet’s life-support systems cause our civilization to collapse? In my view scarce ecological resources; water, soils and genetic resources, exacerbated by climate change, could trigger famines, epidemics and conflict over resources, leading to a disintegration of central control within communities and across nations.

Of course, the claim is often made that our ingenuity and technological innovation will cause us to expand the Earth’s carrying capacity and avoid a Malthusian catastrophe. The Green Revolution; fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and improved seeds expanded our capacity to produce more food in the past century. But today millions of hectares agricultural land is poisoned, our planet is hotter, our lakes are polluted, falling water tables and our food base is held captive by a narrow crop base. Rising farm debt, suicides, falling commodity prices and enhanced government subsidy payments are the hallmark of high input agriculture.

In today’s world, the technologies that fueled the Green Revolution are antiquated and would be akin to deploying bayonets and horses to execute a 21st century warfare. The search for low-input, diversified, energy and water-efficient agricultural production systems must become urgent global research and policy priorities. This calls for placing more effort into genetic and ecological research and a shift from a crop centred to a farming systems-based approach. Maintaining the productivity of the ecological foundations of food production through safeguarding the fertility of soil, efficient water use, judicious exploitation of agro-bio-diversity, collection, conservation and optimum utilization of genetic resources is essential for sustainable food production.

What is produced, how it is produced and for whom it is produced are critical questions that must addressed if an ecologically sustainable and equitable global food system is to emerge. The development of ecologically and economically viable food systems must come from novel designs of cropping and or livestock systems managed with local knowledge and eco-technologies appropriate to farmers' resources and agro-ecologies. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Making Kenya Work

At the turn of the 19th century a virulent epidemic, which swept the eastern shores of a lake then known as Nam Lolwe, decimated half of my grandfather’s family. Later, a young officer of the British Indian Army discovered the lake and renamed it Lake Victoria.  

My grandfather gathered his family and fled death, abandoning the artisanal fishing business. This was an improbable journey. But he was buoyed by the solemn duty to preserve his family. He found a new home for his family up on a plateau to the east of Lake Victoria.

My father was born just before the end of World War II. My grandfather enlisted as an unskilled laborer when the colonists built the first bridge across the Sondu-Miriu River. My grandmother worked the land and raised six children. My grandparents were illiterate but in a changing world they understood the transformative power of education. My father worked on the land and went to school in colonial Kenya. Through hard work and perseverance he qualified to enter a teachers’ training college. During the holidays he worked in the tea fields of Kericho to provide for his family and pay his way through college.

I was born after independence. Both my parents were schoolteachers, folk of modest means. But I had all the joys of childhood; toys, a dog, and the honor of herding my grandfather’s cattle. Like my grandparents, my parents believed that through merit, borne out of hard work, any child could attain their dream. My grandparents are both deceased now. But that their grandson would attend the best schools, attain the highest level of education and write a newspaper column must make their departed souls truly glad.

My story is not unique. It is the quintessential Kenyan saga. It is the story of hope and triumph. My story and that of many families like mine affirms the timeless proclamation made fifty years; a pledge to fight poverty, ignorance and disease. That today no one in my family is poor or illiterate or infirmed by preventable diseases affirms that progress to realize the ideals of our independence struggle are alive and on the march.

But for many of our fellow citizens the dream and promise of independence is a bill of goods. I followed last week’s presidential debate in the naïve hope that it would be a contest of ideas about how hew out of the mountain of national despair, a stone of hope.

Like many of you I was astounded by how little the lady and the gentlemen who seek lead our country knew about what is needed to restore faith in politics and build our economy. I was also awestruck by how unserious moderation could dumb-down a historic national conversation.

Half a century later, the path out of poverty is pretty uncertain for millions of Kenyan families. Mothers and children, infants and senior citizens cannot afford the life saving medicine they need. Our healthcare system delivers not healing but more suffering and debt. Moreover, we are unsafe, in our homes or on the streets

Half a century later, punitive tax and investment policies, an epileptic energy system, decrepit roads, inefficient ports and a moribund railway network all converge to annihilate business and enterprise. Our natural capital is in decline; our hills are denuded and our scarlet rivers foul our lakes. Agriculture is comatose. Manufacturing is dead. We have become a warehouse economy; holding and trading cheap imports from distant shores, spiriting away billions of our meager but had money to create jobs in foreign lands.

Half a century later, our teachers spend more time not in the classroom but on the streets fighting for better pay. 25% of the over 800,000 kids who finished primary school in 2102 will not transition to high school. The path to gaining skills and competing in a knowledge economy does not exist for a majority of our children. Only 6.25% of those entering the job market can find well paying jobs. Inequality is staggering; the richest 10% of households spent on average 14.3 times more than the poorest 10% of households in 2011.

This election must be about delivering the promise of independence. It must be about electing a government that can work on behalf of the many, and not just the privileged few. It must be about a government that opens the doors of opportunity for every child across this land, regardless of their last name, rich or poor. Our politics must be about things we can touch, feel and see. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ivory is Africa’s New Conflict Resource

Africa is in the throes of another horrific elephant extermination. Demand for ivory in China is flourishing as never before and is driving the illegal killing of elephants. Conservation groups believe poachers are killing off tens of thousands of elephants a year.
The one-off sale of legal ivory harvested from elephants culled in Southern Africa endorsed in 2008 by the parties the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) may have triggered unbridled demand among the Chinese. Trade monitoring information collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have shown that the majority of ivory now on sale in China comes from illegal sources.
Moreover, there is growing evidence that poaching increases in elephant-rich areas where Chinese construction workers are building roads. In 2012, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa, from Kenya to Nigeria, for smuggling ivory. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, 90% of ivory seized at Kenya's airports implicates Chinese citizens.
Jane Goodall, the foremost conservationist of our time, has made an impassioned plea for a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory to forestall the imminent extinction of the African elephant.
Here is a snippet of what is evidently an unconscionable catastrophe. Today only 6,000 elephants are left in the wild in eastern Congo, down from approximately 22,000 before the civil war. In December 2012 a Tanzanian MP declared that poaching was out of control with an average of 30 elephants killed everyday. In southern Sudan the elephant population, estimated at 130,000 in 1986, has crashed to 5,000. Chad, home to 15,000 elephants in 1979, has less than 400 left. Last year poachers killed at least 360 elephants in Kenya, up from 289 in 2011. We all recall the massacre last month of family of 11 elephants in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park.
China’s fabled economic boom has created a vast demand for ivory products, pushing the price to unprecedented levels, $1,000 for just less than half a kilogram, on the streets of Beijing. China presents a vibrant and unfettered market for ivory bookmarks, rings, cups, combs and chopsticks. Experts believe that up to 70% of illegal ivory flows through China.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a leading authority on the African elephant, believes that with an estimated value of $7.8 – $10 billion per year, illegal wildlife trade is the 5th largest illicit transnational activity globally.
INTERPOL and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice have both recognized the increasing involvement of organized crime syndicates in wildlife crime. In December 2012, 24 tonnes of ivory was seized in Malaysia. This and other seizures of large ivory consignments is clear evidence that a well-oiled criminal network now underwrites illegal ivory trade. It is inconceivable that hundreds of kilograms of tusks could be moved across the globe without the help of corrupt government officials.
 Poaching and ivory trade has become dangerously militarized. Similar to blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or Angola, ivory is the new conflict resource in Africa. Conflict, weak enforcement and corruption have made it possible to trade for ivory for weapons. According to reliable accounts, Africa’s most pernicious groups are killing elephants and trading ivory to buy weapons to perpetrate atrocities.
Organized crime syndicates are now believed to be linking up with rebel movements such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, Al-Shabaab and the Janjaweed to obtain and move ivory through conflict zones and international ports, with the aid of corrupt state officials. Syndicates carry out detailed planning, have significant financial support, understand and utilize advanced information technology.
In comparison with other forms of transnational crime, the risks and penalties associated with the illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife are small. For instance, four Chinese men who pleaded guilty in a Kenyan court to smuggling ivory worth $24,000 were fined $340 each last month. If unchecked the unbridled demand for ivory could exterminate the African elephant, exacerbate existing conflicts in Africa and foment new conflict. Tackling the demand for ivory must be a global priority.
As the epicenter of illegal ivory demand, China must understand that its global leadership derives not from the scale of its wealth or military power but from its moral courage to stand up against international crime. It behooves China to declare an indefinite unilateral moratorium on ivory imports.
The 40th Anniversary of CITES on March 3rd 2013 and the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to be held in Bangkok is a chance to send strong and clear messages on combating the illegal trade in wildlife. But seriously, the very idea of killing and trading in high value wildlife as an incentive for conservation is morally reprehensible. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Building a More Resilient Society

We live in the most complex, uncertain and hyper connected epoch in human history. Interdependence of financial and supply chains present monumental challenges for global stability.

In 2007 US Subprime mortgages tanked Asia’s hottest IPO markets, devastated European banks and hit global hedge funds in emerging markets. According to the World Economic Forum fragile economies, unsustainable debt and environmental degradation are the big risks facing the global economy in 2013.

For Africa, this reality presents a new development context shaped by uncertainty, risk. Vulnerability in one country begets vulnerability in others in ways that were hitherto unimaginable. Socio-economic instability and ecological degradation in a single country inevitably reverberates throughout the continent.

Convergent economic and environmental challenges will continue to have dramatic impacts on millions of Africans, jeopardizing progress toward poverty reduction, eradication of chronic hunger and disease control. High food, energy and commodity prices, persistent income inequality, climate change and environmental degradation cast a long shadow on our collective prosperity.

Public policy is the best mechanism we have designed to deal with collective challenges. Policies are broad statement of purpose and process for addressing a particular social, economic or environmental issue. The intent of policy is implemented through regulatory, economic, expenditure and institutional tools.  American philosopher, John Dewey, argued that policies must be treated as experiments, with the aim of promoting continual learning and adaptation in response to experience over time.

Whether the goal is to address infant mortality or free education or water and sanitation or energy or agriculture or conservation, policy-and decision-makers face significant uncertainty. Policies that cannot perform effectively under dynamic and uncertain conditions face the risk of not achieving the intended purpose, and undermining the capacity of societies to cope with or adapt to change.

In a world fraught with uncertainty we need a resilience approach to policy design and implementation. The concept of resilience first appeared in ecological lexicon with C. S. Holling’s seminal paper, “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems” in 1973. Resilience is the capacity for adaptive renewal through transformation and reorganization after disturbance.

Resilience has emerged as an important organizing idea when thinking about policy and management action appropriate to the magnitude of risk and uncertainty we face today. The theme the just concluded 2013 World Economic Forum was “Resilient Dynamism”. Resilience is now widely used to communicate the idea that a society or economy or ecological systems have the capacity to absorb shocks and disturbances with minimal disruption.

Resilience thinking in policy design and implementation is really about an adaptive approach, which takes into account the fact that the future is not knowable and manageable. An adaptive approach to policymaking understands and appreciates dynamics, uncertainty and complexity of socio-economic and ecological interactions.

An adaptive approach to policymaking could make societies and economies more resilient to external shock and supple in response to rapid change and surprise. Some policy scholars have suggested that we should treat policy making as gardening: muddy, attentive and experiential, because we have no idea what growing conditions will prevail.

I argue that public policy must be designed to be more flexible and adaptive, to respond to unanticipated conditions in order to reduce the risks of policy failure as foundational assumptions of their design come against the headwinds of change.

Building adaptive policy is not the task of a single actor or a single sector, no matter how innovative. Rather, building adaptive public policy, which, are resilient over time, requires building foresight, forging coalitions across society, decentralizing decision authority and committing to continual learning.  

The capacity of a policy to adapt to anticipated and unanticipated conditions can be facilitated using some simple process mechanisms.
1.     Integrated foresight planning and analysis: Identifying multiple drivers, which determine policy design is critical to understanding how the implementation and targeted outcomes might evolve across a range of contexts.

2.     Multi-stakeholder consultation: Collaborative processes strengthen policy design by providing a comprehensive understanding of key drivers and recognizing common values, identifying shared commitment and anticipating emergent issues

3.     Enabling decentralization: Decentralizing of the authority and responsibility for decision-making to the lowest effective and accountable unit of governance can enhance policy responsiveness and relevance to the local context.

4.     Continuous learning: Regular review, even when the policy is delivering its objectives, and the use of well-designed indicators can strengthen monitoring, and inform policy learning and continual adaptation.

The imperative to reconcile economic, social and environmental wellbeing has never been more urgent. Moreover, the condition under which policy-makers must work has never more complex and uncertain. We must therefore face the future differently by building a resilient society; a society that responds to change and crisis through continual learning, adaptive renewal and reorganization. 


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