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Kenya needs bold strategies to tackle food security challenge

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Last week, the nation was confronted with the shocking news that the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) rejected 221 tonnes of potato seed out of the total 282 tonnes that had been shipped into the county for multiplication ahead of this year’s planting season. 

The potato seeds were rejected after they were found to be infected by a harmful bacterial disease. Shortage of high quality seed could translate to lower production of potatoes, which is Kenya’s second most popular starch after maize.

To make matters worse, 13 counties have been severely hit by drought and require immediate intervention to prevent widespread starvation.

Looking at this chain of unfortunate events, there is plenty to suggest that Kenya should employ bolder, more effective strategies to tackle the food security challenge.

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To be fair, there is already some impressive work that has started taking place. A good example is the newly launched Potato Seed Production Unit at Tumaini National Youth Service, Nyandarua County that has the capacity of producing 9,000 tonnes of seedlings annually.

The plant is using aeroponics technology, a rapid seed multiplication technique for producing potato seed with a yield of up to 10 times higher than the traditional method. It is initiatives such as these that make one wonder why similar high impact agricultural projects are not being rolled across all the other counties in Kenya.

Part of this could be attributed to the fact that, while Agricultural extension services have been devolved, agricultural research has largely remained a preserve of the national government.

This has meant that the collective wisdom on matters agriculture has remained concentrated in Nairobi and has not been able to reach, empower and transform the ordinary farmer.

The missing link therefore lies in leveraging universities, particularly those with established Agriculture departments, with the objective of developing a deep understanding of the local conditions at the county level and prescribing the most effective projects that would have the maximum impact on the local community.

Obviously for this model to succeed, universities will need to have access to regular funding and for this they might need to consider the land-grant model that has proved to be extremely successful in the United States.

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Land-grant universities were conceived in America at a time when it was felt that there was a need to focus on the teaching of practical agricultural, military science and engineering courses in response to the industrial revolution.

Through a series of legislations known as the Morrill Acts, came the funding of educational institutions that would be granted federally controlled land which they would sell and raise funds to establish an endowment that would consistently earn interest income to fund university research expenditure.

Good examples of universities that thrived on this model include Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A second bold strategy that would greatly support food security would be in increasing the number of youths engaged in agriculture. Given that the average farmer in Kenya is above 60 years, there needs to be a serious push towards mentoring a new generation of food producers for Kenya.

It used to be the case that agriculture was considered a low-quality profession that was meant for those without educational credentials. But those days are now long gone and there is now genuine sophistication that has been introduced to the practice of farming that has made it very attractive for youth.

Perhaps this reality was best captured by the glamorous Safaricom Blaze Be Your Own Boss competition which was won by a 25-year-old potato farmer from Baringo County and the runner up being a beef farmer.

The main challenge preventing more youth from venturing into agriculture includes limited access to finance as well as lack of land. The Youth and Uwezo Fund ought to be made easily accessible to young farmers who can use it to buy quality farm inputs. Furthermore, they could use part of the proceeds to lease land from their parents who may be fast approaching retirement age and who could also benefit from extra income.

In the final analysis, Kenya can draw inspiration from the small nation of Ireland which has a population of only 5 million people but is able to produce food for 50 million people.

Kenya has the rare opportunity to launch a Pan African food revolution that will change the narrative of a continent that is typically personified by a begging bowl, to one that has the capacity to feed the entire world.

Only bold strategies can deliver this vision.

The views expressed in this opinion article don’t necessarily represent KBC’s opinion



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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