Years ago we had a big farm where we planted all kinds of food crops – pumpkins, arrow roots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, bananas, fruits, beans – and most importantly, maize. Only lazy people do not grow maize, the stable food of Kenyans. And weren’t lazy. So from the river at the bottom to the top of the hill, we planted maize.
And during this particular year that I am talking about, the crops initially did particularly well. But somewhere in middle the rains disappeared. The skies were clear, dry and clean blue. Soon, the crops became weak and everybody became concerned. “The crops are going to dry,” they worried. “There will be great famine if no rains come!”
And optimistic ones said, “The crops need only ‘one rain.’” But that one rain didn’t come. Even as a child of a few years, I could feel the doom. And I prayed. And when no rain came and the crops withered, I swore to myself never to engage in farming unless I had water that didn’t depend on rain.
This year again the rains have felt in many parts of Kenya. And I am saddened to see everyone –including the government – thinking like the villagers of old. We need to stop relying on rain fed agriculture, even a child knows that.
This week, Bill Gates (he needs no introduction) makes a relevant comment when he says, “The first promise of any good politician (read government) is to make people’s lives better, and scientific research leading to innovation is one of the best ways to honor that promise. Until about 1700, there was basically no development. Almost everybody was poor, many were sick. One of every four children died. Average life expectancy was about 40 years, and 99 percent of people were illiterate. But then science came along and we started inventing—electricity, the steam engine, antibiotics, sanitation, vaccines, microprocessors, genetic medicine. “
The end of the story is easy to write: “And the world – except Kenya and Africa – started the journey to development.” (The ending is mine, NOT Bill Gates’).
Shocking Famine Stories
These are the frightening stories that should wake up the Kenya government to embrace science and innovation: “More than 1.3 million Kenyans are facing starvation and are in dire need of relief food. So serious is the situation that livestock have started dying in large numbers across the country. The worst affected areas are Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Kitui and Samburu.” (The Star newspaper).
“As each day passes, many Kenyans continue to face starvation, with most affected being those from pastoral areas. Animals have died due to lack of pasture and water to drink.
“Desperate herders are forced to walk several kilometers under the scorching sun in search of food and water for their families and livestock.” (Standard newspaper).
The government’s response is to start totting up how much food it can master to assist the drought victims. And that would have been okay if this was the first time. But droughts are recorded since 1700s. Where are our scientists? Where is the government?
Science, the Great Giver
Bill Gates says, “Science is the great giver—and we’re just at the beginning of what it can give….When a country builds its own scientific capacity, the benefits it gets are far beyond what it can imagine.”
A current example of what science, combined with progressive national philosophy, can do is China. From a poor country a short while ago, China is now an aid give.
Imagine what the Jews in Israel could achieve if they had land as endowed as even that which we call the driest in Kenya? With a progressive national philosophy and science, they have turned true deserts into paradises.
It is what Kenya needs – a progressive national philosophy plus science.