Images of emaciated human beings in the media — tales of helpless children and the elderly left on the roadside to die – these are heart-rending and quite disturbing. The fact is, this is real and it is happening right now in our part of the world.
Those of us who live within proximity of these calamities have the privilege of being able to reach outand give a hand, pray with someone, give some food and share words of encouragement. The problem is that even the most articulate runs out of words and instead let torrents of tears fall down.
The crisis is not only in Somalia and Ethiopia. The worst drought in 60 years is also here with us in Kenya. The nomadic tribes including Masaai
and Turkana, and those parts of Eastern Province and Rift Valley, especially the Kamba peoples, are really suffering. Besides human hunger, animals are also hungry. An estimated 8.7 million cattle, sheep and goats have already died, destroying the savings, livelihood and future food security of their owners.
In Kenya, the price of maize, which is East Africa’s staple food, went up 160% in the last year. In a region where half the population lives below $2 a day, that has a staggering impact. Over ¾ (i.e. 20 million) of Kenya’s population report a change in eating habits due to soaring food prices. This automatically means increased
levels of malnutrition, less money available for children’s schooling and potential instability. And while food prices are shooting up, agricultural production is going down. Dr. Fan of the International Food Policy Research Institute explains that “lack of agriculture, lack of what poor people need, is a fundamental cause.”
Why? How? When? What? For how long? These are questions that have been asked before and may continue to be asked. Even now, we need a paradigm shift. Emergency measures need to be taken and are needed urgently. But lasting solutions must be put in place so as to avoid these situations every 5, 10 or 20 years. Raising funds for these long term solutions is, in our experience, very difficult.
Sustainable agriculture, water catchment areas, boreholes, agro forestry are solutions in everyone’s mind. But we need actors.
People who will fence hills and mountains with solar powered electric fences, dig boreholes, plant trees and create forests.
People who will work with subsistence farmers and large tract farmers, getting them to set apart at least 10% of their land for trees.
People who will occupy open tracts of land, or lease them, and fill them up with trees.
What Africa needs is trees, trees, trees and more trees. If trees can grow in Israel or places where fertile soil is hard to find, there certainly should and could be more trees growing in the Horn of Africa.
Once we can move the forest cover from 0 or 2.5% to the 10-15% that is recommended,we will have begun to address the problem. For right now, let’s do all we can to save lives. That is the quick fix. But let’s not stop at just giving food. Let us begin some real action that will change the Horn of Africa.