DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

Have you ever heard of Malibya?

It is a Libyan investment initiative that has leased up to 100,000 hectares in Mali to plant hybrid rice and process tomatoes, amongst other agricultural ventures. The company pays nothing for the land. The only payment forthcoming from them is a water tax.

I am definitely opposed to countries leasing land in other countries because local people almost always end up suffering in the process. But I will not delve deeper into that in this article. Rather, I want us to delve into the land in Libya and how it can also serve the country’s food security pursuits.

Indeed, Libya is a very, very big country that is roughly the size of Norway, Sweden and Britain combined. One then wonders why they have to venture into Mali when they have massive land right under their nose. The answer lies in fertility. Libya salivated for Mali’s one hundred hectares because their proximity to Niger River imbued them with land fertility.

As the Agroecologist E.F. De Pauw wrote in his paper, ‘Management of Dryland and Desert Areas,’ “The main principles for successful dryland crop management are well known. Essentially they boil down to retaining precipitation on the land, to reducing evaporation, and to use crops with drought tolerance.”

Has Libya really gone that extra mile to manage its dryland in sustainable fashion that will increasingly result in agricultural yield that can feed its people and even be exported? Sustainable dryland management is like that sumptuous meal that takes hours or even days to prepare. Such a meal is a marathon that shuns the sprint of fast food. It is often a lot easier to just go the fast food way.

Similarly, sustainable dryland management takes time, patience and meticulous planning. But eventually, it provides long term solutions as opposed to the quick fix solutions of food importation or foreign land leasing.

Libya should start looking at its more than one million hectares as one million opportunities to plant the crops that it is importing.  

Saturday, 21 July 2018 03:40

Swimming with Algeria's Fish and Shrimps

I was surprised to learn that Algeria is the last country in the world where Lead Petrol can still be sold. All other countries in the world have banned Lead Petrol because of the harmful effect it has on children’s brains. But away from this tragic Lead scenario great things are happening in Algeria. Algeria’s desert to be specific.

A desert can be a very hostile place. I experienced this firsthand a few years ago in the remotest parts of Kenya’s northwestern Turkana region which is mostly arid. I had travelled there to lead a cultural exchange and community empowerment project. All around me as far as the eye could see, was sand, rocks and more sand. How can people live here? I had asked our host Nakuleu, a tall man well over six feet tall.

How can fish live here? Most people who visit fish ponds in Southern Algeria’s localities like Ouargla normally ask themselves. They find plenty of fish swimming merrily in fish ponds that are surrounded by searing hot desert sand. Although eighty percent of Algeria is covered by Sahara Desert, this desert barrier can no longer stop fish from swimming and landing into marketplaces.

These fish ponds have been blossoming since 2008 when the Algerian government supported their establishment. The Government is now very keen on ensuring that through desert aquaculture, annual fish production doubles by 2022 to 200,000 metric tonnes.

In 2016, Algeria harvested its first ever desert shrimps further proving that the desert was more than sand and camels. It could also be a place teeming with fish and shrimp that could earn millions for local fish farmers.

Algeria’s desert aquaculture is particularly vital given the fact that although the country is blessed with 800 miles of a Mediterranean coastline, fish production from the sea is dwindling. Considering that Algeria’s population is expected to hit the fifty-million mark by 2030, food demand will undoubtedly increase.  

Friday, 20 July 2018 11:02

To Wangari Maathai - Thank You

On the morning of 24th September 2011, the world woke up one morning to the sad and tragic news that Professor Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist, human rights activist and Nobel Peace prize winner passed away the previous night at about 10 PM in Nairobi hospital.

Although she had finally lost a long battle against cancer, she had won many battles during the incredible 71 years of her life.

I last met Wangari Maathai in 2010 on July 26 during the screening of her autobiographical movie, ‘Taking Root, the Vision of Wangari Maathai.’ I was the moderator of the post-movie discussion so as soon as the screening ended, I went forward and ushered Wangari Maathai to the stage. She shook my hand and said in her gentle but firm manner, ‘people must not forget where we came from.’

For almost an hour, I sat proudly next to her and watched as she engaged both the audience and panelists with her trademark vigor. It was such a refreshing and reinvigorating experience as we collectively walked down memory lane and dissected what that great daughter of Africa had been through.

Although her life is over, her dream of sustainability lives on. Hers was a life that changed democratic space in Kenya and entrenched environmental sustainability into the very heart of global discourse and action.

She achieved so many groundbreaking things during the 71 years of her life. She was the first woman to earn a PHD in East and Central Africa. She started the Green Belt Movement and spoke out about the central role of environment in the society when barely anyone in the world was doing so. But even back then in the seventies, she understood that you cannot separate the earth that we depend on from the world that we live in. Hence she championed both environmental and democratic initiatives.

In 2004, the world at last caught up with her when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Finally, the world formally acknowledged what she had known all along – that the earth and the world are intertwined. That environmental sustainability must walk hand in hand with social and economic progress. That the environment is a key pillar of peace.

At 10PM on September 25th 2011, Wangari Maathai’s green and life-changing journey came to an end. The world is a better place because of this journey. We must follow her footsteps and practice what we preach. Our own lives must continue changing our world not just through talk, but through action..

Thank you, Wangari Maathai, for following your dream and changing our world, in both small and big ways. We should all follow in those indelible, green footsteps.

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Four out of ten people in Morocco are employed in the agricultural sector. Thousands of these people are in the southern region of Sous. For centuries, this region has gifted Morocco its most fertile land. Many of the Moroccans who live here are Berber-speaking peoples of the Imesmoden and Iẓnagen Berber Tribal Confederacies. Main inhabitants are however, drawn from the Susian community who speak the Tasusit Berber language. This information is important because most non-Moroccans do not appreciate the rich linguistic and cultural identity of the Berbers.

Read Abir Farhat’s probing and powerful article on the Constant Dilemma of Ideintity in Tunisia.

If you take a walk in the bustling Sous marketplace, you will find evidence of this agricultural vibrance. You will come across crates of jolly tomatoes and other agricultural produce waiting to be purchased by the hundreds who throng the market.

Almost thirty thousand people in Sous earn their living from agriculture. They are able to pay rent and educate their children through agriculture. Many work in the agricultural plants that produce 90 percent of Morocco’s exports, making Sous the country’s agricultural export superpower.

Unfortunately, not even this agricultural superpower is immune to the searing effects of climate change. In recent years, drought and floods have assaulted Sous and left it battered. The livelihoods of those thirty-thousand people whose very lives and livelihoods are fueled by agriculture are now in jeopardy.

It is now conceivable that fewer and fewer of them will be packing vegetables and fruits into containers bound for Europe because there will be correspondingly fewer vegetables and fruits from their once consistently lush farms.

This is the reality of climate change. So much has been written and said about this reality that millions of people are now numb to the gravity of it all. But for that young mother-of-three from Sous whose three children depend on her job at the fruit factory, climate change is now an everyday reality. She cannot be forgotten by the global community because if that happens, those children will be swept away by the flood of uncertainties that is now sweeping across Sous, Morocco’s agricultural superpower.

Its 4AM in Southern Mauritania’s Gorgol region. You would expect a cool breeze to be doing the rounds at this early hour. But instead, there is a dryness in the air that would draw out rivulets of sweat on your forehead if you were there.

Tata is among a herd of about fifty livestock that are attempting to sleep. She is about four years old. She sneezes twice. Mauritania catches a cold because she is that powerful to the country.

Tata and the rest of Mauritania’s livestock accounts for 13 percent of the nation’s economy and provides three out of four Mauritanians with income either directly or indirectly.

All I want is some grass. Tata thinks as her hide blazes under the searing heat although its only 6AM. You would think the sun has been sent to torture him. It is literally pouring all its red-hot rays on him.

All around Tata there is utter barrenness. There isn’t a single tree to shield him from the sun and not even an inch of pasture to shield her from hunger. So that morning Tata set off together with her owner to find water and pasture. Her herd joined other herds that were also on a similar mission for survival.

Why do I have to walk for so long these days to find water and food? Tata wondered, remembering the good old days when treks always led to water and pasture sooner rather than later. Even she could tell that climate change was now a life and death reality.

After hot days of trekking a sweet sound started filling the hot, humid atmosphere. 

A trickle was becoming louder as the sound of Senegal River reached Tata’s ears before the sight of the mighty river greeted her eyes. Finally, some water. And pasture.

Tata’s survival will make a big difference to Mauritania.

The World Bank says that apart from contributing 16 percent to the economy between 2005 and 2015, livestock ‘provides revenues to roughly one million individuals, plays a key role in food security and resilience, and serves as a means of capital accumulation and insurance, especially among the poorest.’

Thursday, 19 July 2018 04:08

Come Back to Me Chad

What do you feel when you touch me? When your fingers run through my softness. Do you feel dirty just because you have touched soil? When I cling to your hands, its not because I want to remind you what you are missing.

In 2015, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization wrote my biography and called it ‘Status of the World’s Soil Resources.’ This was the first ever major global assessment ever on soils and related issues.

In this Soil Biography, FAO revealed that, ‘soils are the foundation of food production and food security, supplying plants with nutrients, water, and support for their roots. Soils function as Earth’s largest water filter and storage tank.’

Why then is it that the Central African country of Chad, a country that is fifty times bigger than Rwanda has one of the highest levels of hunger in the world? In addition, almost 90 percent of this large country’s mainly rural population lives below the poverty line. This is despite the fact that 15,200 square kilometers of arable, non-forested land in Chad is underutilized.

Listen closely to the sound of tractors, ox-driven ploughs and sweaty farmers ploughing the land. The bulls are snorting and grunting, their heavy footsteps thumping out a rhythm. The tractor splices and slices soil as it bulldozes its way through the soil. Hoes slice into this soil as people start digging just before the sun peeps out of the eastern horizon.

Long after the tractors, ploughs and hoes have gone, I am still there, nurturing the seeds that were planted in me. When am fed with water and manure, I ensure that these seeds grow into succulent crops that yield bumper harvests. Indeed, one of my key missions in life is to nurture the crops that feed people.

But in Chad, I am alone and lonely in 15,200 square kilometers of arable, non-forested land.

I am here Chad. Come back to me and you will be able to feed yourself fully.

Thursday, 19 July 2018 04:05

Have a Taste of Togo's Cassava Cake

You are walking home just after 8PM. All around you there is darkness. You can’t use the small phone in your pocket to light your path because its battery is dead and for the entire day, you had nowhere to charge it. Such is the plight of seven out ten Togolese who have no access to electricity. One of them is Kossi, a twenty-three-year-old young man from the northern part of Togo. He is a cassava farmer. But he sees himself more as an aspiring deejay than a practicing farmer.

“Farming has zero money,” Kossi says, “when I become a deejay, I will have much more money and will have a lot more fun.”

For Kossi and many of the fifty percent of Togolese population who are also smallholder farmers, their farms are mostly means of survival and nothing more. It’s no wonder the World Bank says that almost three million Togolese are living in poverty.

Poverty should never exist where there is fertile land because soil is the ultimate ATM. But for soil to dispense those brand new, shiny bank notes, one must deposit into it the right seeds then till and nurture it in the right way.

In the case of Kossi, his cassava farm might just end up being cooler and more profitable than his deejaying prospects.  

As the Food and Agriculture Organization has previously argued, cassava flour can be used as a partial replacement for many bakery and pasta products. This would make Kossi make much more money because there would be more demand for his cassava.

For cassava in Togo and elsewhere in Africa to become the new wheat, there must be major policy incentives for cassava farmers and widespread cassava awareness campaigns. After all, most of Africa never used to even know widely consumed agricultural products like corn and cabbage. The colonialists and missionaries introduced this foodstuff and aggressively popularized them.

One of these green, flourishing cassava plants in Kossi’s farm has a plea for him, “just believe in me, show me some passion and I will show you the crispy bank notes.”

Land, land, land. Good old land. Africa’s arable land. I wonder what Africa’s land thinks about Africans. Especially after the good people of the UN Environment did a Regional Assessment for Africa and reminded us that, ‘Africa has 60 per cent of the world’s unconverted arable land, indicating potential for investment in food production on a massive scale, which if realized could enable the region not only to meet its own food needs, but also to export globally.’

When Africa’s land read these words, it was dumbfounded.

‘How can 60 percent of me be right here in Africa yet you just choose to ignore me?!’ Good question.

The Gambia in West Africa is a living representation of this sad fact. Although this west African country is the proud owner of 558,000 hectares, more than half of this land is not being used.

Speaking to farmers in The Gambia’s North Bank Region, the Minister of Agriculture, Lamin N. Dibba said that said the government will subsidize the cost of fertilizer by almost 70 percent to ease timely access. This left me wondering whether this fertilizer route is really the right way to go. Think about a scenario where the Government even as it subsidized agriculture, the Government would also facilitate a largescale organic fertilizer rollout.

Apart from animal waste, almost all organic waste can be used as raw material for organic waste. This waste can be turned into organic fertilizer manually or industrially through several ways. Some of the simplest include manure piles and compost pits. In both cases, organic waste is allowed to decompose over a long period of time resulting in organic fertilizer that can be used on ones farm with the excess sold.

Organic fertilizer is therefore a potential extra revenue stream for Gambian farmers.

In addition, the beauty of organic food is that it’s also more nutritious. But don’t just take my word for it. The Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry published a study that delved into organic food. It established that organically grown food contained higher total phenolics.

Are you wondering what on earth phenolics is? Well, phenolics are vital for plant health as they enhance defense against insects and diseases. Phenolics are also important for human health as they contain a wide range of pharmacologic properties including anticancer, antioxidant, and platelet aggregation inhibition activity.

Do you now see why it is a big deal that organic food contains a higher level of phenolics?

The big deal of organic food is causing the expansion of organic agriculture. UNEP reports in its Green Economy Report that ‘the proportion of global arable land dedicated to organic crops has increased from a negligible amount in 1990 to around to 2 per cent in 2010, and as much as 6 per cent in some countries.’ This means that more and more people in the world are awakening to the indisputable health, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 07:18

Joie de vivre in Lagos

When my Kenya Airways plane touched down in Lagos Nigeria at 3.30 in the afternoon, I peeped out of the tiny windows and smiled at the airport workers who were busy driving up and down the airport, ferrying luggage and all manner of things.

Finally, I had landed in Africa’s most populous Nation. I could finally put a tick next to Nigeria in my rumpled ‘Countries to Visit’ paper that I had written in December 1999 when the imminent arrival of a brand new millennium prompted unprecedented ambition in most humans.

DAVID BWAKALI. My name was scribbled on a blue sheet of cardboard paper that a stocky man was holding up. I saw it as soon as I emerged from the international arrivals section of the airport. It felt nice seeing my very own name. It was as if the name had preceded the person into Lagos and it was now welcoming the person t rejoin it.

‘How are you sir?!’ The man said enthusiastically, as if he was an old friend and not just a driver for Elo, sister to Akpezi, my UNEP boss’s husband.

I was in Nigeria for the sweetest assignment ever. Akpezi had requested me to write two biographies for her father and mother-in-law. So I was there to conduct a series of interviews that would give me sufficient raw material to work with. Imagine being paid to do two of your favourite things – travelling and writing. I couldn’t thank Akpezi enough for the opportunity.

Ekwe, the driver was wearing a spotless white shirt and well-pressed black trousers. He was clean shaven with grey hair patches peppering his well-trimmed hair. He could have been a bank manager on a Saturday evening. He was as eager to know more about Kenya as I was eager to know about the sights that were speeding by me as we drove towards Elo’s house.

‘Are you a Yoruba?’ I asked him, thanks to that Kenyan habit of seeking to know people’s tribes.

‘How did you know?’ The furrows on his forehead signified surprise.

‘I am a prophet’ I answered with a serious face, belying the fact that I was joking.

The car slowed down slightly as Ekwe looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and reverence.

‘Just kidding,’ I said, triggering boisterous laughter from both of us before I explained to him that Yoruba and Igbo were the two tribes that we most famous in my part of the world so I had just guessed.

‘Our President Olusegun Obasanjo is a Yoruba’ Ekwe said proudly.

He paused and let go a rather loud sneeze before continuing, ‘he is a good man.’

It was 2005 and President Obasanjo had been president since 1999. He ruled until 2007 when he made way for President Yar’Adua, a northerner.

I was amused by yellow color of public mini-buses that seemed to be all over the roads. Back home in Kenya, the larger public mini-buses don’t have a uniform colour and often compete to see which one will be the most colourful and outrageous.

After one hour of manoeuvring through the honks, twists and turns of Lagos, Ekwe finally drove through the guarded gates of a lush neighbourhood and into a large corner house whose gates opened as we approached.

‘You are welcome David!’ a jovial middle-aged woman said as soon as I alighted from the Toyota landcruiser. As we embraced like old friends, she repeatedly told me to feel at home and asked me how Akpezi, her sister-in-law was fairing on back in Kenya.

This is what I like about Africa, I thought as I revelled in the warmth of instant friendship.

There is such a sense of family. A joie de vivre that can be felt in warm embraces like the one that Elo had just given me or the boisterous laughter that Ekwe had kept unleashing on the way from the airport, or the playful honks of public mini-bus drivers as they cajole customers, or the handshake of business deals in pubs, or the humming of a mother as she cooks pounded yam and fish for her family or even in the tears of a hungry and poor little boy who has been through the hell of Boko Haram and emerged on the other side traumatized yet energized to face another day.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 04:45

Dancing with Guinea's Fish

In 1968, Miriam Makeba arrived in Conakry Guinea and began her life in exile on Africa’s West Coast. Language barriers notwithstanding, she received a heroine’s welcome and found a home away from home. As she was driven from the airport, she witnessed lush fields dotted with waving palm trees prompting her to say that she had never seen such beauty in a long time.

Fatou, a middle-aged lady from the Guinea’s capital Conakry sees this beauty whenever she visits her ancestral home in Dalaba, the town where Miriam Makeba used to stay.

The sun has risen bright and early. Fatou is basking in this sun as she stands at Conakry’s Bonfi Port gazing at the vast Atlantic Ocean. Although the natural spectacle before her is dripping with shimmering beauty, Fatou’s focus is on one of the small brightly-colored wooden boats that is about to dock. She is a fish seller whose fortunes for the day lie in the belly of that boat. Moments later, she leads a pack of other fish mongers to the boat. They find that the three fishermen pushing the boat into the shore’s wet sand had only managed to catch less than ten kilos of fish far from enough for their needs.

Fatou and the fishermen who carry her hopes every dawn keep wondering why fish that was once abundant has drastically dwindled in the last few years. The World Bank has an answer that is gleaned from multiple expert opinions, “Climate change leads to rising sea temperatures, making fish stocks migrate toward colder waters away from equatorial latitudes, and contributing to shrinking fish sizes. It also influences the abundance, migratory patterns, and mortality rates of wild fish stocks.”

What then should Fatou and the fishermen do since they are victims, not perpetrators of climate change? Those international climate funds should facilitate them to be cooperative owners of deep sea shipping vessels that can venture into the deeps and catch a lot more fish for processing, export and sale to the local market. That way, they will be able to dance again with their fish in a profitable and sustainable way.

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