“Mūrīmi ndaunagūo gūoko.” Said a person who I have neither heard nor seen. I am not even sure if that is the correct way to write what they said, but of importance here is life… sorry I mean… of importance here is that you understand what he is saying. For you my readers who are unfortunate enough not to understand Greek, the sentence directly translates to “You do not break a farmers’ hand”. I know “assumption is the mother of all fuckups,” but I want to assume that by now, you have a literal idea of what that sentence means, and you have already imagined what would happen if you break a farmers hand. But to insure myself from fucking up, I will explain using the literal imagination that came into my mind when I first heard the quote.
Let’s say you live in a village inhabited by 26 people (don’t wonder why 26, I also don’t know). In this village of 26 inhabitants, only one person is a farmer. The rest wear suits and use computers. She is the one who tills the land, plants seeds, waters the seedlings, weeds the crops and takes care of them until when time is ripe for harvesting. Then she harvests, and sells to you 25 people. There is an abundance of food and the whole village is full. Because a hungry man is an angry man, you guys are happy even. She (the farmer) continues providing food year in year out with nothing short of dedication and consistency. The rest continue staring that their screens and tapping on their phones. The village thrives in good health and peace.
But then, after observing this village for a while and seeing how good it is doing, the devil has had enough. We all know where he stands as far as disrupting peace is concerned. Then, in a doomed turn of events, he chooses you to be his messenger, his vessel towards carrying out his mission. Poor you! So all of a sudden, you are the only one with a malicious heart (roho mbaya) – a dirty heart (roho chafu) in that village. You begin to envy the farmer because she is known by everybody and is loved by all. It makes you very jealous when she is called the backbone of the village. You begin to wonder why you are not the backbone yourself. After all, you know how to torrent latest movies from the internet. Long story cut short, one fateful night, you walk up to the farmers house, sneak into her room and you break her hands. She wails in terror, the village wakes up alarmed af, and the 6 brave men of the community charge into that homestead before you manage to escape. They beat and tie you up. Then you are thrown into a pit of serpents – to be with your masters. I don’t have to write that you die, but you do.
The village is paralysed. But what do you expect, its backbone has been broken. Now hunger begins to bite, and the villagers have nothing to chew on. Like hyenas, they begin to competitively scavenge for whatever little they find. Everyone for themselves now. Everyone is frustrated and highly irritable. Maybe we can say highly flammable, because their tempers are now always on the verge of blowing up. They tried coming up with an app that could download food from the internet onto ones plate. But that is not how life works. Worse still, 3D printing technology was still a concept they watched on youtube. Everything was dying. Damnit. You killed you village.
Well, I see that village as our darling Kenya. That woman represents our farmers and the villagers are citizens. We have not died yet. But we could die, pretty soon. Why? Here is why:-
First of all, it has been repeated to us that agriculture is the backbone of our economy, accounting for about 25% of Kenya’s GDP. This basically means that finished products occurring from agricultural activities in Kenya earn Kenya a lot of much needed money, through exports, for instance. We further know that we need a lot of money – if the government’s current borrowing spree is anything to go by. So, on one hand we need money, and on the other we have an opportunity of making money. What is stopping us from making the money? Foolishness. We seem not to understand what “backbone’ of the economy means, and so we are doomed to starve. What are you without your backbone? I think we need to take this terms seriously. “Backbones” are mean to be protected and taken care of. We need to take care of our agricultural sector or else we’ll STARVE!
To protect the backbone means to guard it from harm by all means. But it has already been harmed. There was a point in history where agriculture got into a relationship with politics (and you know how Kenyan politics are SMH!). Or was it politics that got into an affair with agriculture? It began with team Kenyatta and his farmers from Central Kenya (the Gikuyu, Embu & Meru) who were big into coffee, tea, dairy, and cotton. Kenyatta protected them by all means. Then came Moi with his maize, wheat and sugar obsession. These were primarily Rift Valley crops. And we all know that Moi’s people are in the Rift Valley. As far as I understand (and I stand to be corrected), among other reasons, Moi’s shift of focus from Central Kenya to Rift Valley contributed largely to the decline of coffee, tea, dairy and cotton farming, which were among Kenya’s top export commodities. The politics here was that Moi ‘intended on weakening the economic base of the Kikuyu community who were at the time supporting the opposition rather than him.’
Over the years, the appointment of top officials in various parastatals in the agricultural sector has been guided by self interest and hence tribalism. ‘Puppet’ men (rarely do you find women in these positions) are placed in these coveted seats to serve the interests of the ‘higher powers’. They collude to cause a shortage of, say, maize, then they declare an emergency, then 24hrs later a ship from Mexico is nearing the port of Mombasa loaded with Maize. As if the ship was just hovering around the coast of Kenya waiting for the shortage to happen. Negotiations between the Kenyan government to and the Mexican government seem to happened via WhatsApp chats. See this link to get a better idea of what I am saying. As you have seen, politicians have no concern for anyone but themselves. So farmers, who are indeed our backbone, are not protected.
Taking care of our agricultural sector means agreeing the the average age of the Kenyan farmer should not be 60 years. It is seeing the huge opportunity and energy we have in our young population and working towards encouraging them to take up agriculture. It is finding ways of making agriculture sexier than seating in an office. It is showing young men that indeed dirt is good, not to make Omo more revenue but to inspire them to see the money-making opportunity that has always been in farming.
Taking care of our agricultural sector is deliberately thinking about our farmers in all aspects. Are they being trained on the best farming methods? Are they being provided with materials and information to make them farm better? Are they using updated tools and implements? Are the roads that they use to transport their produce good enough? It is sad that a farmer can harvest tomatoes worth millions only for them not to reach the market because they got spoilt inside a lorry that was stuck in mud for days. It is like the pain of loosing a child – all the months you waited and toiled laid to waste!
Assure farmers that their produce has a good market. Lower their cost of production. Give them incentive to farm. Build in them a pride in being farmers that being a pilot has. Make sure that the parastatals in the sector are working towards making a farmer as comfortable in his craft as possible. Let not things like corruption, mismanagement of resources, ineffective research and all shit that we can control hinder farmers from effective farming. I think it feels bad when a National Cereals and Produce Board buys from farmers very cheaply only for the grains to rot away in the silos. Stop stealing and invest in good storage facilities for God’s sake! Let us instead worry about more complex things like global warming and extreme weather conditions, for those we don’t really have direct control of.
I said we would die soon because let’s just face it, our agricultural sector is messed up. And mostly by our leaders. I suggest that by some miracle, leaders in this sector be reshuffled based on competence. Remove the current rot and replace with people who have an actual background in agriculture or crop science. Don’t force an accountant to be farmer. Please.
To sum this up, dear reader, I want you to know this: Kenya’s population is growing at a rat-like pace. This population will need food. Happy is the man and woman who shall feed this great nation, for they shall sell the food to millions of people and make billions of shillings in profit. Take up farming, or encourage someone to take up farming. Support a farmer. It is for your own good.