It is No longer Curses for The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands.

While I was young and growing up, my lovely dad used to teach me a few concepts of the bible. He had mastered the teaching art since he only taught me the bits my little developing mind could grasp.

One such concept was about the biblical little town of Nazareth. He narrated to me about how Phillip had found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel then said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The verse ends up with Phillip telling Nathaniel, “Come and see.”

These words matched well with Mark Twain’s reactions when he first visited the little nation of Israel back in 1867. Actually it was called Palestine by then. Twain in all his skepticism saw nothing good in the little dry country. Like Nazareth which was a small village (economically dwindled perhaps) that boasted of not more than 150 people, Israel back then was no better.

In a short video about Made in Israel – Agriculture, narrated by Gordon Robertson, Mark Twain is painted has having lost hope with this little country by saying it was a desolate land mass whose soil was rich enough but had given itself to weeds. It was filled with shrubs and poverty irrespective of its expansiveness.

Tuly Weisz in a 2017 article in The Jerusalem Post provides a better picture of the country back then. In the piece, it says that Twain in fact wrote about his experiences there. For instance while at Jerusalem in the Jezreel Valley, he remarked that one could ride 10 miles without seeing 10 human beings. He actually wrote, “… can the curse of the deity beautify a land? Palestine (Israel) sits in a sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.”

As Robertson narrates, it is true that if Mark Twain were to be alive today, he couldn’t believe what he could see. Israel has changed it face completely. Despite over 70% of the her land being a dry area, the Jewish residents have been able to transform the land to become productive hence food sufficient and even gone an extra mile to export to the rest of the word.

Surprising enough, the Negev desert has become bread basket of the country with other arid areas becoming hot spots for growing tomatoes, cherries, berries and also for practicing aquaculture. Everything has been properly researched to a level the soils are being precisely fed with the specific nutrients and demands they want. For instance the Olives do well with the salt water and the fecal from the fish farms act as fertilizers for them. The whole system ends up being sustainable and self-sustaining.

This means that the arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya and the rest of Africa hold a huge potential in becoming the bread baskets of our nations. We only need to learn the secrets the Israelis used to succeed massively in their endeavors many years ago. And first of it was the idea of unity, the Kibbutz. It was so central in turning the huge barren land mass into a productive one.

Arid areas
A simple practice of digging canals or using drip irrigation effectively can change our story. Photo Courtesy of World Food Program.

Mati Shoshani who is the Director of Operations at TBN Israel illustrates the system of the Kibbutz that was very crucial for the success of the Jewish country transformation. The kibbutz according to the dictionary is a community, usually an agricultural one, based on a high level of social and economic sharing, equality, democracy and social relations. In this system, ethical morals become fundamental for the agricultural success of the enterprise.

It is a system where there is total devotion and sacrifice to the concept. It is the highest form of Zionism. It is not surprising then that Jews are the wealthiest individuals in the world and control the money even though they are far below 50 million in total. So for us to change the story, we have to master the secrets of the Kibbutz. Most important is the absolute giving of ourselves to the system and respecting it. I am happy the curse of the arid and semi-arid lands has been changing over the recent past. Something good is coming out of the barren soils as we perceive them.

As a matter of fact, I have not heard any huge outcry of hunger from Northern Kenya of late, Why? I read an early 2018 UNDP story talking of how the Turkana people are facing drought one drop at a time. The farmers from Nawoyawoi had resorted to digging canals from river Turkwel into their farms. All of a sudden the land deemed unproductive changed at once. This concept was and is widely used in Israel where canals have been dug to bring water from Lake Galilee and the Mediterranean to the dry areas of Israel. I am glad the story has been adapted in Turkana.

I also learnt that farming has started to take root in Samburu and Marsabit with the help of the local media teaching the local residents about sustainable agricultural practices using the native language.

According to Kilimo Media International, they work with Serian FM to teach the Samburu about arid agriculture on Saturdays. In Marsabit, they work with Star FM, and Rendile and Borana services of the KBC. I believe the people are being taught of better agricultural practices as well as arid resistant and tolerant agriculture and also other adaptable techniques relevant to them.

The whole northern block can start at this basic level and work towards a morally viable form of kibbutz through such member groups as the Nawayawoi group from Turkana and Lporos group from Samburu to mobilize the rest of the community in a Kibbutz system way to help give the so much needed agricultural transformation in those arid and semi-arid areas.

To succeed however; integrity, innovation, democracy, equality, economic sharing, strong social relations and most importantly technological infusion will need to be  highly developed. It means the curses we have associated with the arid and semi-arid areas have a chance to change like Israel. And Like Nazareth too, their stories will go afar off when the rest of the country and continent at large will say, “Come and see.”

Fact Check: Did you know that 80% of Kenya is classified under Arid and Semi- arid lands and that only 20% is classified as productive land? I thought you should know to understand the potential that lies in changing our mindset on arid and semi arid agriculture towards becoming a food sufficient nation.

End.

Copyright @ 2018.

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Manufacturing, Technology, Innovation, Governance, Management and International Emerging Issues. For featuring, promotions or support, reach out to us at info@dailyfocus.co.ke
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