Rural Populations are getting disfigured, and suffering neck-and-back pains planting and weeding crops in order to feed Africa. Despite the fact that 80 per cent of Africa is engaged in the activity of food production, they have failed to effectively feed close to 210 million out of the 900 million people. In Kenya three types of farmers will set out to plant food crops this season: the hoe-in-hand, the ox-pulled plough and the tractor-pulled plow!
Growing up in rural Western Kenya, we formed a ‘weeding club’ to raise money for purchasing exercise books. It was not fun spending the whole day under the hot sun to earn Ksh 3 per maize line stretching over 300 meters weeded. Several hazards awaited us in the fields, bugs, boggy soils, and in extreme cases, snakes. To Westerners, this would be classified as child labor, but then, we didn’t see them in the fields at that time! Excelling in school work offered an escape hatch from this very basic means of preparing a crop that one would never guarantee leave alone predict whether the harvest will be good or bad. The fact that this conditions still prevail in most rural areas in Africa begs the question as to what exactly our school system is doing to address such issues.
I did escape the weeding, and as the situation stands today, whoever failed in the Kenyan school system was condemned to this back-breaking exercise for ever! One gets married, house-hold demands increase, and to ensure ends meet, one has to weed more and more in order to raise enough money to feed the family. One might argue that this is one informal way of ensuring jobs for the unemployed, but should it remain the same without any value addition over these years? Can the introduction of use of herbicides help lift the burden of hand weeding from African women, children and occasionally men? Again the question remains, how many jobs will be created and how many will be lost?
To feed Africa, we need to push rural populations to adopt ‘business thinking’ and possibly ‘urbanized’ competition in order to spur more productivity. One way of achieving this is to strategically initiate value addition to traditional methods of tillage. In this era of erratic rainfall, farmers could be taught on limited tillage techniques to retain moisture in the ground. Farmers can also save a lot on medical expenses arising from repetitive motions and work postures that lead to musculoskeletal diseases.
In Paraquat: A unique contributor to agriculture and development, http://www.paraquat.com/Portals/5/Paraquat%20jh.pdf Dr. Prasanna Srinivasan argues, “Herbicides such as Paraquat are important because weeds compete vigorously with crops for water, light and other nutrients. As a result, if they are not suppressed, they reduce the crop yields by up to 80 per cent.” Could it be that the efforts of the African populations have always been sapped by this competition with weeds leading to less food production? I smell a business opportunity for the un-employed here!
Getting the African agricultural practitioners introduced to herbicides such as Paraquat is one of the solutions to saving the continent from time wastage and back-ache. But the challenge is in the safe usage of such chemicals. Use of Paraquat in Africa has been viewed by many in Western countries as a not feasible experiment on the basis that Africans are not keen on following instructions. It’s alleged that the rural populations might choose to ingest other than apply on weeds! You are the judge; how many of your rural relatives are keen to ingest rat-poison?
At the back of African parents mind, is the dream of the day they will see the fruits of education bequeathed to their children. Over 40 years of independence, and the educated sons and daughters of Africa cannot save rural people from the chains of the hoe, back-ache and hunger. Each one of us must feel pressured to feed this continent. A hungry population will not effectively position Africa in the World Market.
Can African intellectuals offer a way out of this predicament? We must save rural agricultural populations from getting disfigured by judiciously adopting new techniques of ensuring more productivity. We must pressurize government regulatory bodies to ensure that companies and or business that introduce new technology adhere to internationally acceptable stewardship standards to ensure nil harm to our populations. We must be proactive in introducing these technologies to our people for purposes of kicking hunger out of Africa, and releasing more energy of the rural populations towards business. It is only through building a constituency of business minded Africans that we will be able to effectively participate in global affairs.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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