Drought woes call for renewed leadership in agriculture

Residents of Nasinyono Village in Turkana West Sub-County queue for water on March 20. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]
Those who have keenly followed Kenya’s food insecurity say 10 per cent of the country is facing this challenge.

About 12 of the 47 counties affected.

These include Turkana, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Kilifi, Baringo, Marsabit, Tana River, Samburu, Mandera, Kitui, and Makueni. For the last 50 years, we have attempted different interventions whenever things have tipped over.

Perhaps it is time we defined this challenge around leadership if we are to get a sustainable solution.

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After all, the drought underlines the urgent need to resolve the leadership crisis in Kenya generally, but more specifically in the agricultural sector.

The drought comes of the backdrop of numerous international, regional and national events on agriculture, where food security is defined around issues such as the need for more research, better-functioning markets, better seeds or increased funding.

While these issues need attention, the lack of focus on leadership is a major shortsightedness. It’s true that the agricultural sector consists of complex systems within systems. For example, technical aspects in research have received funding and attention over the years.

The paradox is that many research products remain on the shelves and their uptake of new crop varieties from research systems remain dismal.

Redefining the issues around leadership – at all levels of agriculture – may address many of these challenges.

SEE ALSO :Two million Kenyans facing food crisis

In the agricultural policy arena, numerous white papers, declarations and position papers exist.  How these are implemented is a matter of debate.

African countries

Again, this has more to do with leadership. For example, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) desire for African countries to set aside 10 per cent of their funding for agriculture has had mixed success in most countries.

The course is offered at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) College of Human Development which seeks to address the challenge of leadership in the agricultural sector. The organisers lament that leadership is taught as a concept and merely enables participants to know more about it but doesn’t leave them being leaders.

  JKUAT is trying to redefine how leadership is taught.  According to one of the course instructors, the drought ravaging Kenya confirms how our leaders are going about this challenge in “tranquillised obviousness.”

SEE ALSO :Two million Kenyans face food crisis as retailers increase flour prices

What this means is that for more than 50 years, we have gone year-in-year-out without resolving this recurring challenge. We need to wake up!

Instead of being a caring nation, it’s almost as if we don’t care for our brothers and sisters in the drought-prone areas. But it’s not just that we don’t care, it’s that we ignore early warning systems and major on minor issues when people are dying literally “next door.”

We have refused to be “out there” with those who face the drought.  It’s almost as though we have become comfortable with the stench of death, the suffering of our own people. 

How many more people need to die before we deal with this demon of drought once and for all? Based on the distinctions of the Being a Leader course, those directly charged with dealing with this crisis should put aside everything they think they know about this issue.

Lack of food

SEE ALSO :Drought threatens census in North Eastern as locals cross borders

Clearly, past and present interventions seem not to be working. From a leadership perspective, the country seems to be dealing with this challenge as a concept. We need a new leadership model devoid of preconceived ideas.

One wonders how many of our leaders, politicians, and policymakers have an experience of going without food for three days, a week or longer. What does it really mean for somebody to die from lack of food?  If our interventions are not informed by the lived experience of these drought-prone areas, we will only be partially solving the problem.

Opening the conference earlier this week, Principal Secretary in the State Department of Agriculture and Research Hamadi Boga said that some regions being food sufficient are a reflection of poor management of resources.

“What we need is to develop a mechanism of moving food from regions of sufficiency to where there is a need,” he said.

As a long-term strategy of resolving this issue, Dr Boga underscored the need for leadership to ensure the success of the devolution system of governance, especially the interphase between the national and county governments.

 In Nyandarua County, for example, the main leadership focus may be the provision of water and the building of roads. Food security may not be as important as it would be in Turkana.

Nyandarua and Turkana leadership can work together to resolve the drought and food security challenges.

-Daniel Kamanga works for the Africa Leadership Transformation Foundation based in Johannesburg.

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