Mixed approach holds promise to African farmers

By Sam Otieno

[NAIROBI] Harnessing smart and sustainable approaches including planting crop varieties suitable for the right soil types and using emerging technologies could boost food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, a meeting has heard.

Experts who spoke at the Yara East Africa Annual Distributors Event held in Kenya last month (20 January) agreed that there are various impediments affecting the agricultural sector in the region and it is time to find workable solutions.

James Craske, Yara East Africa country manager, says that African countries could create better yields through better knowledge, providing crop nutrition solutions programmes to farmers while maintaining soil quality and environmental values.

“Innovation and training will enable smallholder farmers have access to world’s best technologies … to achieve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Johnston Irungu, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya

Vitalis Wafula, regional agronomist at Yara, an organisation that helps farmers increase yields and sustain the environment, points out that for a long time farmers have not been accessing correct information, right input and modern technologies, which would improve harvests.

Wafula explains that capacity building and training are needed for agricultural extension officers to deliver correct services and information to farmers.

“For example, they should advise farmers on the type of fertilisers [to use], how to apply fertilsers on their farms and which crops they should plant depending on the type of soil and climate,” Wafula says.

He is urging farmers not to depend on the rain alone but dig boreholes to get water for irrigation where water is scarce and try to harvest and store rainwater for future use.

According to Wafula, African governments should create proper policies and infrastructure that will make movement of products easy for farmers, and tackle counterfeit products including fertilisers.

Johnston Irungu, director of crops, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Kenya, says that the agricultural sector is key to the overall economic growth and development because it contributes about 25 per cent of the country’sgross domestic products and 75 per cent of industrial raw materials.

Innovation and training will enable smallholder farmers have access to world’s best technologies … to achieve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Irungu tells SciDev.Net.

He notes that most smallholders depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, adding that encouraging them to apply best farming practices could help them increase their yields, incomes and eradicate poverty.

Irungu is calling for African governments to promote investments and private-public partnerships in agriculture to boost farming.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

 

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Kenyans are still oppressed by archaic colonial laws

Mercy Muendo, Mount Kenya University

It’s been 54 years since Kenya got her independence and yet there are still a number of archaic, colonial and discriminatory laws on the statute books. From archival research I have done it’s clear that these laws are used to exploit, frustrate and intimidate Kenyans by restricting their right to movement, association and the use of private property. The Conversation

They also make it difficult for ordinary Kenyans to make a living by imposing steep permit fees on informal businesses.

These laws were inherited from the colonial British government and used to be within the purview of local government municipalities under the Local Government Act. This act was repealed when municipalities were replaced by counties after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

Currently, these laws are contained in county rules and regulations, criminalising a good number of activities, including making any kind of noise on the streets, committing acts contrary to public decency, washing, repairing or dismantling any vehicle in non-designated areas (unless in an emergency) and loitering aimlessly at night.

The colonial laws served a central purpose – segregation. Africans and Asians could be prosecuted for doing anything that the white settlers deemed to be a breach of public order, public health or security.

Violating human rights

Many of these archaic laws also restrict citizens’ use of shared or public space. Some of them grant the police powers to arrest offenders without warrant, and to prosecute them under the Penal Code.

archaic laws Kenya

Some Kenyan laws still in use were designed by colonialists to control the people.
Shutterstock

 

Offences like the ones mentioned above are classified as petty crimes that can attract fines and prison terms.

Some have argued that these laws are being abused because they restrict freedom of movement and the right to a fair hearing.

A few of them also hinder the growth of the economy. For example, hawking without a permit is against the law. To get a permit, traders must pay steep fees to various government authorities. This requirement is a deterrent to trade and infringes on the social economic rights of citizens.

Another example is the law that makes it a crime to loiter at night. This law was initially put on the books to deter people from soliciting for sexual favours, or visiting unlicensed establishments. It has however become a means for state agents to harass anyone walking on the streets at night.

Genesis of archaic laws

The laws can be traced back to legal ordinances that were passed by the colonial government between 1923 and 1934.

The 1925 Vagrancy (Amendment) Ordinance restricted movement of Africans after 6pm, especially if they did not have a registered address.

Post-independence, the ordinance became the Vagrancy Act, which was repealed in 1997. The Vagrancy Act inspired the Public Order Act, which restricts movement of Africans during the day, but only in the special circumstances that are outlined in the Public Security (Control of Movement) Regulations.

The Witchcraft Ordinance of 1925, which formed the basis for the Witchcraft Act, outlawed any practices that were deemed uncivilised by colonial standards. The provisions of the Act are ambiguous and a clear definition of witchcraft is not given. This has made it easy for authorities to prosecute a wide range of cultural practices under the banner of witchcraft.

Rationale behind punitive laws

The idea behind most of the targeted legislation enacted by the colonialists was to separate whites from people of other races, including Asians. For example, in 1929 settlers in the white suburbs of Muthaiga in Nairobi raised an objection when the Governor announced plans to merge their suburban township with greater Nairobi.

That would have meant that they would have had to mingle with locals from Eastleigh and other native townships, which were mostly black. As a caveat to joining the greater Nairobi Township, the Muthaiga Township committee developed standard rules and regulations to govern small townships.

These rules and regulations were applied to other administrative townships such as Mombasa and Eldoret.

White townships would only join larger municipalities if the Muthaiga rules applied across the board.

The Muthaiga rules allowed white townships to control and police public space, which was a clever way to restrict the presence and movement of Asians and Africans in the suburbs.

Variations of these rules remain on the books to date. The current Nairobi county rules and regulations require residents to pay different rates to the county administration depending on their location.

In addition, the county rules demand that dog owners must be licensed, a requirement that limits the number of city dwellers who can own dogs. This rule can be read as discriminatory because the vast majority of lower-income earners now find themselves unable to keep a dog in the city. Indeed, discrimination was the basis of the colonial legal framework.

Can oppressive laws be legal?

Strictly speaking, these discriminatory rules and regulations were unlawful because they were not grounded in statutory or common law. Indeed, they were quasi-criminal and would have been unacceptable in Great Britain.

Ironically, because such rules and regulations didn’t exist in Great Britain, criminal charges could not be brought against white settlers for enforcing them.

To curtail freedom of movement and enjoyment of public space by non-whites the settlers created categories of persons known as “vagrants”, “vagabonds”, “barbarians”, “savages” and “Asians”.

These were the persons targeted by the loitering, noisemaking, defilement of public space, defacing of property, and anti-hawking laws. The penalty for these offences was imprisonment.

Anyone found loitering, anyone who was homeless or found in the wrong abode, making noise on the wrong streets, sleeping in public or hawking superstitious material or paraphernalia would be detained after trial.

Police had the powers to arrest and detain offenders in a concentration camp, detention or rehabilitation centre, or prison without a warrant.

This is the same legal framework that was inherited by the independence government and the very same one that has been passed down to the county governments.

The Public Order Act allows police powers to arrest without warrant anyone found in a public gathering, meeting or procession which is likely to breach the peace or cause public disorder. This is the current position under sections 5 and 8 of the Act.

This law, which was used by the colonial government to deter or disband uprisings or rebellions, has been regularly abused in independent Kenya.

At the end of the day Kenyans must ask themselves why successive governments have allowed the oppression of citizens to continue by allowing colonial laws to remain on the books.

Mercy Muendo, Lecturer, Information Technology and the Law, Mount Kenya University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Platform launched to bolster biodiversity conservation

By Samuel Hinneh

[CANCUN] A learning platform piloted in four countries — including Senegal — is expected to help the West African region boost biodiversity conservation.

The project, Regions for Biodiversity Learning Platform (RBLP), is an initiative of the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4sd).

The six-month pilot phase in biodiversity conservation that also took place in Brazil, Canada and Spain ended in November 2016.

“The benefits of this project for West Africa will be the possibility to share experiences and best practices.”

Mamadou Ndong Toure, Gossas Council Department

The project’s scale-up was launched at the UN 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (‘COP13) held in Mexico last month (4-17 December) where governments and private sector delegations gathered to discuss the integration of biodiversity into policies relevant to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors.

The initiative seeks to support countries to implement their subnational biodiversity action plans to safeguard nature protection.

Mamadou Ndong Toure, a geographer and project manager for Senegal-based Gossas Council Department, which is involved in the project, says the main objective is to exchange experiences and best practices in conformity with the national biodiversity strategy actions plan. The Senegalese project will expand to other countries in West Africa to enable the region properly develop biodiversity conservation.

He states that the pilot phase offered knowledge about innovative actions and challenges faced by other governments. The challenges include natural resources degradation, lack of human resources, and limited financial resources. The innovative actions are restoration or conservation, training, and funding research through partnership.

“The benefits of this project for West Africa will be the possibility to share experiences and best practices and to become member of a dynamic network working on actual thematic areas like biodiversity and climate change,” Toure tells SciDev.Net.

Activities implemented during the pilot phase included the creation of nature reserves, and establishment of informative monitoring system in the field of climate change, he adds.

Rodrigo Messias, a policy officer at the nrg4sd responsible for the project, says the learning platform is now open for any region to join, adding that participation in the project attracts no membership fee but willingness and commitment to share and contribute actively.

“We will also create a website and a database for the regions participating in the project. Besides information about policies, laws and actions taken, participants will also have access to online forums to continue the discussions held during the online meetings,” he explains.

He notes that the project is currently financed by the nrg4sd, and says that the nrg4sd intends to provide a robust structure and continue its expansion.

Arinze S. Okoli, a scientist at Centre for Biosafety, a non-commercial foundation in Norway, says the project could help countries in West Africa create strategies to achieve biodiversity conservation.

Okoli adds that the project will build the capacity of scientists on issues of biodiversity conservation discussed at international conferences to help them make meaningful contributions.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

 

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Africa needs more women computer scientists

Chao Charity Mbogo, Kenya Methodist University

In Africa, a continent grappling with many social ills, it’s critical that universities produce more Computer Science graduates. It’s also one that equips students with crucial skills. The Conversation

Computer Science graduates are problem solvers and logical thinkers who can apply their technical expertise in a range of ways – including to socioeconomic problems. For example, Dr Christopher Chepken used ICT tools to provide interventions for day labourers in a developing country’s context. Maletsabisa Molapo worked on a project that designed a tool to help rural health trainers to create digital training content for low-literate community health workers (CHWs) in Lesotho.

But there’s a problem: Computer Science is an especially male-dominated university course all over the world.

For instance, I was the only girl in an undergraduate class of ten students. That’s not unusual in Kenyan universities, even today. I teach 108 undergraduate computer programming students; just 19% of them are women. The same is true around the country. A 2015 report found that although 41% of students at a sample of Kenyan universities were women, just 17% of them were pursuing degrees in science and technology subjects.

Drawing from my own experiences, I have some ideas about how to throw open more doors for women computer scientists. Collaboration, inspiration and mentorship are key. And, in keeping with the tag line for International Women’s Day 2017 – “Be bold for change” – it will require bold, committed action.

My journey

I’ve always been fascinated by mathematics and other sciences. At school in Kenya I found there was something about maths in particular that tapped into my innate ability to think logically.

Once I’d finished high school I registered for a degree with majors in Mathematics and Computer Science at Kenya Methodist University. The catch? I had never consistently used a computer before – my family, like most in East Africa, didn’t have one at home. I had visited cyber cafes to send emails or browse the internet, but that was all.

women computer scientists Africa

Computer scientists can make important contributions to fixing societal ills.
UNAMID/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 

I excelled as an undergraduate and an Honours student, but craved a new challenge that would push my limits. So I applied to Oxford University in the UK. One lost application form, a new form and a gruelling scholarship interview later, I was admitted for an MS.c in Computer Science at Oxford’s St Catherine’s College.

I was on cloud nine for several months, but then reality hit: during orientation and the first weeks of class, I had to learn UNIX – a multiuser computer operating system – from scratch, complete practical lab assignments within short periods, and adapt to a faster and more dynamic learning process than I was accustomed to.

My interactions with other friends attending Oxford and similar institutions, who had completed undergraduate degrees in Kenya, revealed that most of us had to work twice as hard to bring ourselves on par with our classmates.

It was a big lesson. Many of Kenya’s universities simply aren’t preparing their Computer Science students for the wider world. To many people in Kenya, a computer scientist is someone who knows all the ins and outs of a computer and can fix their friends’ mobile phones and laptops. To others, computer scientists are the people who build apps. This thinking suggests that computer science involves providing a technical solution to a technical problem.

Sadly, this means universities mainly produce technicians – not computer scientists who can solve real, complex socioeconomic problems.

This knowledge stayed with me while I pursued and completed a Ph.D in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I was able to do this because of great mentorship and support, and came to realise how vital those elements will be to keep developing and producing computer scientists in Africa, particularly women.

Inspirational women

The good news is that there are many inspiring female computer scientists in and from Africa. As their public profiles grow, hopefully they’ll be able to inspire young women who might otherwise avoid computer science courses or think the field is only suitable for men.

women computer scientists Africa Grace Hopper Chao Charity Mbogo

The author at an international convention for women in computing.
Supplied

 

Some of the women who inspire me include Mercy Orangi of Google Kenya. She’s got a stellar track record in mobile development and actively participates in initiatives that empower female computer science students. An amazing quartet of women established the Women in Computer Science Society at the University of Cape Town: Imaculate Mosha, Jorgina Paihama, Maletsabisa Molapo and Omowumni Isafiade are all inspirational.

Further afield, I’ve had the enviable chance to meet and listen to women at international platforms like the 2014 Grace Hopper Convention. I was among 8000 women in technology who attended. Professor Shafi Goldwasser, who delivered the keynote address, is one of the few women who has received the ACM Turing Award. This is one of the highest honours in Computer Science and technology.

All of these women – and many others – do remarkable work to drive conversation, offer support and mentorship and get more women involved in computing. Their example should be followed by every woman who’s travelled the often rocky path to a computer science degree. Now, more than ever, we must be bold and we must become the doorways for young women to pursue their passion and interest in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Chao Charity Mbogo, Researcher and Lecturer of Computer Science, Mentor, Kenya Methodist University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Strengthening African health services to achieve SDGs

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA] Critical challenges in the coverage of key health services in Africa should be addressed to help the continent achieve the SDGs, a forum has heard.

According to the first regional forum in Africa on strengthening health systems for universal health coverage and achieving the SDGs, which was held in Namibia late last year (12-13 December), Africa has only three per cent of the global health workforce despite bearing 24 per cent of the global disease burden.

Matshidiso Moeti, director of WHO Regional Office for Africa, told the more than 240 participants that despite increased domestic funding for health in many African countries, health services remain grossly underfunded, struggling to provide even basic services to many, especially the poorest and marginalised people.

“Robust policy dialogue and participatory planning for health are imperative to fully implement the SDGs.”

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Office for Africa

“Many facilities deliver substandard services due to technical and managerial capacity gaps and inefficiencies, and lack the critical resources that are the core foundations for health systems,” says Moeti, adding that inequities in the distribution of health workers and lack of access to safe and affordable essential medicines and good quality technologies remain challenges.

Moeti calls for intensified data collection, monitoring and research on health programme performance and results as necessary for bettering the situation.

“This implies considerable investment in data and information systems in countries. Modern e-health and mHealth technologies should be used for all aspects of health systems strengthening [and] we should scale up their use in our region,” she says.

The forum was organised by the WHO Regional Office for Africa and the Government of Namibia.

According to Moeti, African governments need high-level political commitments with a clear vision of health in the SDGs: “Robust policy dialogue and participatory planning for health are imperative to fully implement the SDGs,” she adds, explaining that her organisation has launched a transformation agenda to help countries ensure universal access to essential health services to advance the implementation of the SDGs.

She explainsed that sustainable financing is crucial for health with targeted investments that maximise the allocation and efficient use of domestic resources, while effectively leveraging and progressively reducing dependence on external resources. The private sector’s contribution needs to be strategically mobilised.

Andreas Mwoombola, permanent secretary, Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, says that health is central to the SDGs because it influences achievements in other non-health or related SDGs.

“Strengthening health systems is enhancing development in various social and economic sectors,” he notes.

According to Mwoombola, health systems strengthening is indispensable for ensuring equitable access to essential and good quality health service to all those who need it.

Laura Mcleod-Katjirua, governor of Khomas region in Namibia, emphasises the need for strengthening the health systems, saying that it is an essential prerequisite to realise goals of healthy nations.

“The focus on strategic health investments and engagement of partners or donors in supporting health systems strengthening is highly appreciated,” she says.

Mcleod-Katjirua added that Namibia is working towards implementing comprehensive, good quality and affordable health services to help the country achieve universal health coverage and the SDGs.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

 

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.