Monday, October 26, 2015

Agriculture : Of Post Harvest Food Supply

by Mary Appophia

Ranging from tomatoes, sweet ripe mangoes, avocadoes, pineapples, bananas, arrowroots, I am in Murang’a County, in Central Province, Kenya. The hawkers crowd our bus to sell food commodities. I would love to buy every single fruit, and so would my fellow passengers, but with so many people at the window, who are we to buy from? This is a common site in Kenya.What is the solution to regions that have too much while others have very little or nothing? How do we supply what we have across the country?

On our way back we are met with sad dissolutioned looks on both men and women alike. Five pieces of mangoes sold but what is the lady to do with the rest of the basket? Well, they are spoilt for the day, and lets not even go to the dozens falling every night on her roof, yet for the last one week she does not have enough coins to buy milk to her two, four, six- year old children. 
An elderly man sitting next to me tells me they have gone ahead to cut down coffee bushes and are now replacing them with eucalyptus trees. “But that is disastrous for the environment?” I tell him. Note that eucalyptus trees are not suitable for the environment especially if the area receives less than 1200mm annual rainfall. Eucalyptus trees use up soil nutrients, depleting them very rapidly, additionally, they use large amounts of water competing with other species, eventually, they could replace native species especially in areas receiving less than 400mm of rainfall, though this still calls for careful management. Moreover, a Eucalyptus plantation does not encourage as much biodiversity, when compared to other natural ecosystems.
The man informs me that a single eucalyptus tree-pole wood could go up to Ksh. 1, 500, resulting to Ksh. 15,000 if one sells ten poles; while firewood could fetch up to Ksh. 1, 200  per cubic meters. “If I resort to growing maize or retain the coffee bushes, I wouldn’t earn that much in two years. Maize prices sometimes fetch as low as Ksh.2, 000 per 90 kilogram bag. You see, the issue is – he continues to tell me- “I have children to take care of, wife, and aging parents all who need my support. And I need to invest in my future. If my family gets sick, sometimes I am too poor to even afford the medicine. At this time we can only do what we have to do to survive.”
During the day when I had visited my grandmother in the same area, we’d taken a walk down to the “River” and even before we reached the river my mother gasped in disbelief. “Grandmother, where is the river? What happened?” She screams. I don’t understand because I have not been here before. We get closer and a very thin stream of water is flowing. “This simply cannot be happening.” My mother continues. When we were young, barely 25 years ago, your father and his brothers used to swim here. They could even catch some fish. All this ground was filled with water” she is still in disbelief “All that riparian vegetation, what happened to it?”There are only many eucalyptus trees around. And the riparian vegetation is lost.
My grandmother who has already witnessed the massive decline in the now “River Stream” is no longer shocked nowadays.
She tells us that human population in the area has been growing tremendously, and that people can no longer rely on the fruit trees on their farms, or maize crops. In addition, those who still retain their fruit crops do not know where to sell the produce in bulk. People are now planting eucalyptus at every available space and no one is thinking of the vegetation that supports the rivers. “But isn’t this region a water catchment region? “Aren’t these rivers feeding into other bigger rivers?” I ask. “Yes they used to,” she tells me. “But today they do not have enough water.”
A few weeks later I am on my way to Mombasa, and a slight stop at Machakos County and both women and men fill our windows selling ripe red tomatoes and onions. The question arises again, how much can we as travelers purchase from them?  And how many buses will even stop here. And I ask myself, “At the end of the day, what will this farmers and sellers result to in frustration, plant more eucalyptus? Move to urban areas? 
I was born in Nyandarua County and few years ago farmers poured huge amounts of milk in frustration over low purchasing prices and most of them being told to take home their milk. Reason being the small factory they took their product to, did not have the capacity to handle such large amounts of milk. In the same area a farmer feeds cabbage and other greens to a herd of goats and sheep because, well, the harvest is a lot and they’ll still rot if she doesn’t cut them. There is no market nearby to take her products, and at the end of the day people in the same area have the same farm produce. 
Growing up, I could not understand how it was possible that I could take my tea without sugar, yet there was so much production of sugarcane in Western Kenya, and how was it possible that the same sugarcane farmers could take tea without milk, while we produced so much of it, and how it was possible that I never tasted fish, yet the Nyanza region has much fish production, and still, how was it possible, that I never ate coconut fruit and the cashew nuts, yet the Coast of Kenya has so much of them? And better yet, how was it possible that children, women, men, in Samburu, Turkana, North Kenya would experience famine and even die because of lack of food? How could all this cycle take place in the same country?
I am attune to the introduction of better farming techniques, modern technologies. But looking back when we had much food, many still starved, and there were problems in food distribution. There is need to develop efficient ways of moving food from the farmer's hands, to the market, with none, or as minimal losses as possible.  Food supply and distribution is not a problem limited to Kenya solely. Many developing countries are experiencing the same problem: Situations where some regions have abundance of food resources while the rest have little or nothing. According to FAO (The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 p. 8), Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger, with 214.1 million in the region not having access to food.  It is thus necessary to come up with more ways to distribute food within the countries, and across the regions. 
Could it be that establishing food processing factories in the various counties in Kenya could be a big solution to this problem?
Well, I am strongly inclined to believe so. And not just in Kenya but in every other country with different climatic conditions and geographic landscapes. 
To begin with, this will encourage urban-rural migration, as more opportunities will be available in the agricultural field. Currently a lot of able- bodied young people are moving to urban areas especially Nairobi to do manual labor such as ferrying passengers using motor-bikes, carrying luggage at a small fee And I understand that too well. Living standards are tremendously high for the common Kenyan Mwananchi. If the farmer invests huge resources, dedicates his/her day, weeks; working on his farm, and at the end of the month pockets less than Ksh. 5000. Then why should he continue farming? 
Secondly, it will reduce time wasted while hawking the farm produce at the roadsides. The farmers will have a chance to take their produce directly to the factory, probably in the morning and spend the rest of day working at their farms to increase the produce. Consequently there will be more agricultural produce in the country. 
Another benefit will be the increased ability to transport packed food from one region to another within Kenya, with very little chances of the food getting spoiled.The factories could process the raw materials, make juices, repackaging the tomatoes, onions, potatoes, value add them on a large scale. And then distribute them to shops, supermarkets, malls all over the country.
            Minimized wastage, better use of what is locally available and helping farmers supply their products wide - The advantages of food processing factories located strategically across the country are simply many. 
Important as well is the need for good leadership, especially in the agricultural field. Better policies that create conducive working environments for the farmers, availability and affordability of extension services, as well as access to financial resources. Ultimately, with increased opportunities in agriculture, people will be more enthusiastic to engage at the different levels of Ag , adapt better farming practices as well as protect the environment that feeds them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tragedy of the Commons
by Mary Appophia
The tragedy of the commons refers to a dilemma that arises when many people acting individually for their own self interest unknowingly deplete a common resource, and the loss eventually has to be shared by the entire community/ everyone.

The ‘commons’ refers to the common resource which belongs to the society. The resource is usually unregulated and it belongs to the entire group, as a result, everyone has an equal right to use it.  Resources under risk include forests, oceans, fish, environment, non-renewable resources etc.
For instance everyone is free to visit Indian Ocean to satisfy their own interests_ swimming, sunbathing, fishing etc. Common consequences could be that some people may dump papers and waste in the water, while fishermen acting individually may over fish. The end result is that the water becomes polluted and over fishing occurs, and everyone else has to share in the consequences.
Another example is in car ownership. Everyone has the right to own a car, eventually with more people owning personal cars, then there is increased environmental and social problems, including carbon emissions, pollution, accidents, etc.

In the 1800’s when Europe used communal land ownership system, herders were allowed to stock animals. If one individual felt a need to include more animals, then they were free to do so. With time some people felt the need to add more animals for increased production. The land in effect became more congested since livestock were increasing and the land area remaining the same. Consequently overgrazing occurred, leading to land degradation, soil erosion and other negative environmental effects. Whereas one farmer enjoyed the increased yields, the entire community was sharing in the depletion of the common.  

Garrett Hardin in his article published in 1968 titled ‘The tragedy of the Commons’ mentions some factors that contribute to ‘The tragedy of the Commons’. These include systems that advocate for communal ownership of property and reduce the chances of the resource being privatized. When something does not belong to someone in particular chances of it being misused are on the rise. Individuals acting on rational self-interest according to Hardin also contribute to the tragedy of the commons. Because if all members in a group used common resources for their own gain and with no regard for others, all resources would still eventually be depleted. Increased human population, poverty, pollution, are just other examples that lead to ‘The tragedy of the commons’.

The tragedy of the commons has however faced some rejections. Some scholars claim that privatizing resources or putting them under international regulation as a way of reducing their depletion, may put them even at a higher risk since most international organizations act selfishly. Also, they state that resources are better placed in the hands of the community, arguing that most of the best managed resources are managed by the community itself.
Whereas this might be true, we have seen situations where the community unknowingly destroys the resource while trying to improve their lifestyle.

This tragedy though needs not occur. Regulations through laws and policies could be used to manage the resource, including good implementation of those laws/policies.
A good law such as one controlling the type of fishing nets that could be used to prevent fishing of small fishes and other small sea animals.

Education would also play a vital role in ensuring people are aware of their consequences. Traveling in a matatu/ bus, we often see an individual throw plastic bottles/ plastic papers out the window. Another matatu passes, and someone else does the same. With time, we have so many plastic papers and bottles lying along roadsides. In the end, the commons which in this case is the environment is destroyed.
Individuals who share a common resource could also work hand in hand to protect it, for their mutual benefit.

Do you have examples from your local community where tragedy of commons has occurred, or some solutions? Feel free to share :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Barriers of Change

                                                                                                                                -by Ann Mukami

Addressing climate change is one of the most pressing tasks facing our planet and its inhabitants today. Climate Scientists and researchers have been at work, unearthing new information and solutions to cope and curb the menace.

One would think that now that there is so much information on climate change, more people are taking action to stop the problem. 
Unfortunately that’s not the case! Research has shown that despite the fact that more people now know about climate change and its significant threat to human well-being, this has not translated to equivalent behavioral changes to stop it. 

This is due to existence of psychological barriers that inhibit individuals from making choices and decisions that would help in prevention, mitigation and adaptation of climate change.  These barriers stem from our beliefs, attitudes, ideologies and our social interactions.
Which are these barriers?  

a. Distance  
The issue of climate change seems a distance issue for most of us. This is in a number of ways. 
First, it feels distance in terms of geographical location, in that some of these impacts of climate change; extreme droughts, floods, fires, rising sea levels, melting of ice and glaciers, are happening to countries that we may have never heard about or even visited. 

Therefore it becomes difficult to act because there is the feeling that the problem is happening somewhere else. 

In addition, it feels distant in terms of responsibility, that many citizens may think that it’s the responsibility of their governments to solely take action and stop climate change so they end up not doing something about it.  Forgetting that everyone has a role to play and in our small ways, we can make a difference. 

It also feels distance in terms of time. This is because some of the major impacts of climate change are expected to take place in the future, may be coming century or even beyond. So one may think that he/she will not be there when these impacts are happening so there is no need to take action and also the feeling of uncertainty crops in, in that they are not even sure these impacts will take place( at least  for climate change skeptics)

b. Doom 

Often, the information on climate change has been presented in dramatic videos and emotionally draining messages that only show the devastating losses and negative impacts. 

These does not at all encourage people to take action, this is because it creates a feeling of fear and helplessness that the problem is so big and there is nothing we can do about it, so let’s wait for the dooms day!   

Therefore, there is need to shift from this kind of approach and focus more on existing practical solutions that can be done and how implementing them will enhance our lives and promote growth in the society.

c. Dissonance 
This refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, ideas or behaviors. 
People tend to keep consistency in their beliefs and perceptions. So when for instance we are confronted with information that says contrary to our believes or behaviors, there is usually discomfort or some kind of mental stress. 

Hence to offset this, we tend to avoid the situation and give all the excuses we can think of, reason? We most often don’t want change and we always want to satisfy the inner urge of maintaining our original ideas or perceptions.  

For example, if one knows that continuous emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere cause greenhouse effect that consequently leads to global warming and it conflicts with what he or she does in real life, example drives or flies a lot, then dissonance sets in.

Therefore in order to create consistency, it will be easier to choose to avoid the topic of climate change and stay business as usual because it will make one feel better about oneself and how one lives. Dissonance therefore impedes people from making behavior changes to stop climate change.

d. Denial
Despite international scientific consensus and glaring evidence that climate change is happening around the world, some people still deny that it exists or that humans are causing it. 

Denial arises due to different world views or ideologies that individuals hold. 

Denial to acknowledge the facts on climate change eliminates the feeling of guilt; that we are contributing to climate change, which therefore leads to content and delay in taking action on climate change. 
e. Identity
Individuals tend to accommodate information that affirms their values and beliefs that define their identity. 

For instance, it is difficult for oil producing nations to suddenly stop oil extraction because it’s contributing to climate change. This is because, it’s   their identity and oil production majorly drives their economies and stopping production means, at least to them, detrimental economic implications, a risk they are not willing to take! 

Hence the need to maintain Identity inhibits climate change action. 

These barriers are interrelated but yet distinct. It’s important for climate change activists and other climate change communicators to be aware of these defenses when delivering their information so as to avoid triggering them. This will encourage positivity and more action to address climate change.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Of Climate Change.....

Climate Change; "Greatest Challenge of our Time*"_ (Copenhagen Accord, March,2010)

We still have to think of more solutions and new ways of dealing with this problem......
See, the climate change we are dealing with now, isn’t the same as was at the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or at the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Populations have grown, costs of living gone up, and more challenges emerged especially in a lot of developing countries. It is 2015 and we cannot just sit in round tables and talk of climate change in isolation.

 It is climate change and….. climate change and “I am hungry”, climate change and “I do not understand these strange new pests and insects on my farm”, climate change and “I have to do whatever it takes to take myself to the hospital, climate change and “can I afford to send my child to school” And steadily developing countries are rising to become huge contributors to a lot of environmental problems.

And one cannot solely put the blame on people because; a lot of the actions leading to environmental damage are done unconsciously. One needs to survive_ fetch firewood for cooking, cut down some trees to get some more land to grow food/put up shelters to live in etc.….

And this should tell our governments, policy makers and all engaged in environmental protection and the fight against climate change that we still need to go back to the drawing board. Develop projects that address people’s basic needs; improve livelihoods, bring alternative sources of energy to the communities, implement environmental laws, improve our judicial systems, reduce the gaps between rich and poor etc.And this is so especially in developing countries.

Simply put, in 2015, climate change is intertwined with so many other issues affecting the society_ Be it food security, judicial system, security, on and on…. 

What actions and structures are our governments setting in place to shelter people from the effects of climate change? Whether improving early warning systems, modernizing and equipping our meteorological department, reducing costs of living, easing access to healthcare ? 
Or are our governments too focused on empty politics, and corruption? , for heaven’s sake its 2015 anyone who is corrupt or incites tribal clashes, or signs deals that are wrong should go to some deserted island. Because clearly, they seem not understand or are too self-focused to see the challenges in our societies. 

And these same challenges, will eventually lead to the destruction of our environment, worsening the already being felt effects of climate change. 
-          Mary Appophia


"The fantastic four" drinking coconut water in Mombasa!
“The fantastic four” drinking coconut water in Mombasa!

 Lonely planet, trip advisor, media, friends, YouTube. Nothing ever prepares you well enough for an exchange project – except from the experience itself. From that unforgettable call informing one they’ve made it to be part of the exchange team, to the preparation phase, on and on to the final day. Every moment and every day is an experience, whether at one’s home country or away.
Mary Appophia
Exchange participant

The exchange project acquaints one to new experiences, lessons and skills that are essential to life, such as self-reliance, taking initiative, swimming in winter under 10 degree Celsius, open mind-ness, diversity appreciation, dancing to different music, cooking new types of food – like the famous Norwegian TACO! Norwegians love Taco, and in most homes, its Taco Fridays every Friday.

But I won’t lie that the couple months’ exchange project might be tough on you, but they’ll also give you all the life skills you need.  As fundamental as some are, all skills are simply not gained, and well for me the not-gained skill is the art of packing. Often we’ve been travelling for week, and one would assume with so much travel I’ve become really good at selecting essentials, and carrying just enough. But no, I don’t think I’ll ever learn. Good that I’m not the only one with this not-gained skill.

August 21st, the year is 2014, Ann and I got our first plane ride, and well for me, the first time at the airport. Destination? Oslo, Norway. The air trip was as exciting as we’d expected, but for one little disappointing factor, Ann’s ears did not “pop out” as she’d pictured (Sorry Ann, I know I promised not to tell anyone about that).

Sweet Summer ended, beautiful autumn came, and let’s say for Ann and I the “not so friendly winter” finally arrived. But it was exciting experiencing the different seasons, skating in the snow, visiting the famous ski jump. Norway was simply beautiful for us, with new experiences each day, beautiful nature, the trains and train-time conscious lessons…

My awe moment must’ve been seeing the northern lights. And I remember thinking, “that they are actually real”. I always thought it was something people said about some lights in the sky… It was wonderful actually seeing them in real life!

And the most important part was creating climate change awareness in schools, visiting Grønn Ungdoms local groups, learning new cultures, sharing experiences, as well as meeting new people. We had a lot of fun, and gained a huge amount of experience on talking in front of an audience on our tours!

In the course of visiting schools one aspect that stood out, was climate change is quite a distant subject to most students. And that is true for most people; it can sound like a huge subject that a mere individual has no control over. But something we have learnt is that a focus on how your audience can contribute in stopping, or reducing, the impacts of climate change, always brings the topic closer home. People want to feel that they can do something and contribute to the solution.

Boom! January 2015 came, and it was Guris and Fridas turn to travel the 7000km. Destination?  +254, Land of lions, Giraffes, Gazelles, Buffalos, Zebras and beautiful handcraft. (That was just some brief marketing on Kenya as a great tourist destination.)

In Kenya we have been doing some of the same things as in Norway: Visiting schools in Western/Coastal/Nairobi Kenya. We’ve realized that students in the different parts know quite a lot on climate change. And most solutions that students gave, focused quite a lot on adaptation and mitigation. Many parts of the country are already feeling the effects of climate change and it is important that people are aware of how to cope with this changes.

In addition, we have been visiting KYG local groups. We have learnt quite a lot on what they are doing as well identified challenges/ areas that could be improved more.  This will guide our last phase on areas to develop proposals on.

And of course I have to mention food, and It has been fun eating food from the different parts of the country. From Ugali+chicken in Western Kenya, Ugali+fish in Nyanza, Pilau, Madafu in the coast, and the most important: CHAPATI <3 p="">
In the last one month, focus shifts to strengthening the organization with a focus on improving KYG programme areas, developing proposals as well as compiling the final project products such as the video and the report.

Now there is less than two weeks left of this 8 month adventure. It has been fun, instructive and exciting, as well as challenging, tough and sometimes stressful. I have learnt so much; about ways of fighting climate change, cultures (and the clashes that might occur), organisational work and things I didn’t know about my self. This has been an experience that I will carry for the rest of my life, and I want to encourage you to apply for an exchange program if you ever get the chance!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015



Skjermbilde 2015-03-29 kl. 15.57.09

We are used to looking at the industrialized countries as developed and the developing countries as slow and far behind. But what does it really mean to be «developed»?

By Frida Jasmin Sende                                                                                                                                 Young Greens of Norway

The industrialized countries are the ones who have contributed the most to global warming historically. But generally the most severe effects of climate change are not happening there. The developing countries are the ones who, in most cases, have to face the effects of global warming first, yet they have just started contributing to it themselves.

Obviously, a lot of good things have come out of industrialization and development, and some countries are of course more “developed” than others in many ways. They are also more capable of coping with the changes in climate.

I´m wondering what Mother Earth would say. What is a developed country really, from her perspective?

Maybe we need to rethink our ideas, and question ourselves: Is it right to call a country that contributes to the destruction of the planet, developed?

At this time in history I would suggest that all countries are developing countries. The industrialized countries has to develop once again, find new ways of living, new solutions that are sustainable in the long run, and create new green jobs that we have not seen before. There is a whole shift in society that has to happen.

The ”developing countries” on the other hand has a huge opportunity to learn from the ”developed countries’” mistakes, and develop in a sustainable, modern way from the start. They don´t have to spend decades creating a fossil fuelled economy that is doomed to die. They have the possibility to catch up, and lead the way into a new and renewable future!

When we talk of stages of development of nations and communities, we should take into consideration how sustainable the lifestyle and ecological footprint of their inhabitants are, and to what extent they contribute to a healthy environment and sustained life – locally and nationally, as well as globally.

I suggest that we need a new definition of what it means to be a developed country. In a developed country, the “eco” in “economy” mirrors the interdependence between ecology and economy, and the politicians and bankers of such a country recognize that the wealth of the nation is lessened by predator extractivism, pollution and climate disruption. In a developed country the economy is brought in line with nature, and does not have to deplete its resources to function.
In a developed country, no one is enslaved by the economy’s uninhibited need to grow, for one has tamed the economy, and it no longer takes the shape of a towering tidal wave on a collision course with the planet, but has become a circle – a circle of life, even; functioning without mankind having to exploit resources faster than nature can renew them, and without dumping more waste than our ecosystem can handle or absorb.

It is a country that makes sure that what we do today benefits the well being of all beings, and makes sure that the future generations have a healthy environment to live in as well. It is a country that does not harm the environment, but takes care of it. It is a country with modern and sustainable energy solutions and thousands of green jobs!

This definition leaves us with very few (if any) completely developed countries in the world today. Time to get to work, and start developing!

The exchange project visits a waste management plant in Oslo!

Mary Appophia, Exchange Participant
Video from the visit
From finding my way around opening the clothes dryer machine, using the dishwasher, differentiating Train time from African time, to realising that zebra crossing means that I can literally use the road regardless of vehicles passing; something else that has taken me so long to grasp while in Oslo,is the concept of white, blue and green bags.

Well, until a couple of days ago.

Let me first introduce you to the blue, white and green bags.
Households in Oslo are provided with blue and green bags. (The bags can also be picked at no fee in supermarkets)

And the purpose of these bags is to store household wastes in them. Residual waste goes into the white plastic bag; Plastic goes into the blue bag; while Food waste goes into the green bag. It sounds quite simple but a few things I had not quite understood are: What is really supposed to go into the blue bag?  Why do I have to clean my yoghurt cup before disposing it? And what really is food waste? Are  flowers food wastes? Why is it important to tie double knots on the waste storage bags before disposing them? And if both the blue and green trash bags end up in the same large trash bin, why is it useful to put the plastic and food trash separately?

While I may not answer all above in this article, I can definitely say a recent visit to the Agency for Waste Management in Oslo answered our questions. And what greatly fascinated us was the automatic optical sorting system that separates the blue bags from the green bags ensuring that each type of waste ends up where it is supposed to be.

Waste in the green bag is used to produce bio-fertilizers and biogas that is currently providing enough biogas to run 135 buses.The visit also informed us that one banana peel is single-handedly capable of running a bus for 95 metres.

Plastic waste in the blue bag is recycled to make new plastic packaging and items such as sportswear, office chairs, toys, etc. and you certainly don’t want to make clothes and chairs out of dirty plastic; hence important to clean the plastics.

Chewing gum? Flowers? It’s in the white bag :) This is because flowers usually contain huge amounts of pesticides which we do not want in our bio-fertilizers  The residual waste is then incinerated to produce energy for district heating.

And if you wondered about the smoke from the incineration,it is cleaned and the smoke released contains 99% water.

In total this system of waste management saves up to 15,000 tonnes of Carbon dioxide emissions each year.

“We don’t use the term garbage, because with garbage there is no value. We say Waste. Because Waste is resources.”- Linda from the Agency for Waste Management in Oslo.”