Saturday, August 14, 2010

Abducted, raped and made to suffer by Ugandan rebel soldiers

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[GULU] Her eyeballs rolled left and right in a dance of hopelessness with tears on the edges as she softly bit her dry cracked lower lip. Betty Ajok was certainly struggling with some terrifying deep inner feelings. She was in great pain.
And the harrowing three-year ordeal in the bush that snowballed into her phobic existence is what many a young girl in northern Uganda has had to endure because of the many years of senseless civil conflagration pitting the National Resistance Movement army presided over by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and the sadistic ragtag Lords Resistance Army [LRA] in the hands of Joseph Kony.
She is ex-girl child abductee of the brutal and barbaric lot that is the LRA that has terrorised northern Uganda for the past 26 years turning the once agricultural rich region into a huge camp of suffering and destitution.
Betty Ajok in their makeshift
at Anaka IDPs camp, Northern Uganda

“All that I underwent in the bush makes me feel like I am not a human being anymore. I deeply loathe all that I was forced to do but the experience has stuck and gives me a deep sense of misery each passing day. I feel hollow,” Ajok said.
On a sunny mid-morning in 2000, Ajok and three other unsuspecting little innocent life vessels-they were about 10 in age-walked a little distance from their Anaka Internally Displaced Persons camp in search of firewood. Anaka is about 50 kilometers north of Gulu town.
In a split of a second, as they gathered firewood in the forest, they found themselves surrounded by mean looking and blood thirsty men who ordered them to follow.
“It was about 10 AM on that fateful day when they ambushed and ordered us to follow them. Disregard to commands from rebel soldiers was not possible if you knew what had been going on in this part of our country,” she said with her eyes cast in a hollow distant look.
For three days they were on the move drooping under the heavy weight of looted property in the thick forest further to the north, the stronghold of the rebels that attack and run to hide in eastern Democratic Republic Congo and Southern Sudan.
On those three days they were on the move joining other rebels with abductees, men and children forcefully drafted, in the bush. Once they reached one of the rebels’ make shift camps in far northern Uganda they were declared wives. “I was only twelve and I absolutely knew nothing about having sex. I had never slept with a man but as soon as we reached one of the many make shift camps we were declared wives.”
Like animals in a market place the leaders paired them in jungle matrimony to bloodthirsty rebel soldiers. “The man I was given was about thirty years and I was only 12. Like a ravenous animal he pounced on me subjecting me to excruciating pain in my private part that l will never forget. It was not love making. I was being raped. After sometime I had to resign to this painful, dehumanizing life. What else could I do,” she posed resignedly.
“Any girl, who dared resist was shot dead as everybody watched,” she recollected, a choking pain of anger splitting her voice into a hoarse delivery.
Along the way, as they moved northern from one camp to the other, she got a first hand experience of human tragedy in the hands of bloodletting rebels that have incessantly tormented her ever since then.
“From the day of the abduction I was to stay in the bush for the next three years during which time I saw raw human rage consume many innocent lives.”
In the bush any person who grew weak was shot dead and left to rot there or for the body be consumed by wild animals like hyenas. Some of the areas they passed, Ajok remembered, had human bones strewn all over.
“It was crystal clear from such a spot that several people had been shot dead and just left to rot away. You reach such a place and get bones and skulls spread all over sending shivers down your spine,” she stated.
If you dropped down any of the looted property because you could bear the weight no more, the soldiers turned and snuffed life out of you instantly in a hail of bullets.
Barefoot, Ajok and many other captives soldiered on in places full of thorns, waded through the long dew filled grass and swampy regions.
“We walked barefoot sometimes on stony dry places at times in swamps or on thorns and if you got exhausted and could not proceed any more you were shot dead or tied to a tree trunk to wither off and die, and many died. Many died in places where they were abandoned tied to tree trunks or if you were lucky you were found by government soldiers in pursuit of rebels,” she said.
Many girls got pregnant and gave birth like animals in the bush. There were no hospitals, no midwives. After birth you healed naturally. “And quite often the so called husbands slept with you even before you healed, and there was no room for otherwise. It was cruel. It was the rule of the gun,” Ajok shuddered as she uttered the words.
It was a life of uncertainty and suspicion; you never stayed in one location for long and even immediately after birth you were forced to be on the move.
“We were forced to kill children in the bush. The soldiers could order us to kill some children for hampering our quick movement. We strangled many to death. I did things that I hardly would want to remember yet I did them and I no longer feel like I am a human being.”
Sometimes when people had been killed they were forced to place them in a row and walk over them in rounds. “We made forth and back movements on bodies with their fresh wounds oozing blood.”
Today she lives in a single mud walled grass thatched hovel, which belongs to her elder sister, at the Anaka IDPs center. The center sprung up in neighborhood and when she left there were not many people but on coming back she found it teeming with men, women and children displaced by a senseless war.
Anaka IDPs camp where Ajok lives

In the area they are suffering from many health problems due to the atrocious civil war; respiratory tract infections and water borne diseases like diaorrhea, malaria which has killed three members of their one room household that now houses six
“I have seen hunger, poverty, diseases kill people. I have seen people tortured and brutally murdered. I have seen children strangled to death. I know what this kind of insanity means to people, especially women and children. Yet the world is looking at us from a far,” she said with a blank stare on her face.
A total orphan-her father was shot dead before she was abducted by the rebel soldiers while the mother died when a landmine blew up a pubic vehicle they were traveling in-Ajok was impregnated while in the bush.
She was later released to go home. “As war intensified they did not like those with children because we were making their movements slow and this is how we regained our freedom.”
The father of her son born in the wilderness and is now ten years old was shot dead by government soldiers in hot pursuit.
After their release the three reunited on their way back and by stroke of luck they met government soldiers. The soldiers took them to a camp called Aler, a short distance from Gulu town, before word was sent out to other camps. Her elder sister got the news and went for her.
With no formal education or any skill she is now finding life extremely difficult with three children; two born after she returned back to care for. “Without parents, no job, three children to care for and not being registered with the World Food Programme for food rations life is turning unbearable,” she stated.
Although she is trying a bit of cultivation in sorghum, finger millet, maize, cassava and potatoes the total breakdown in the socio-economic structure of this area makes life exceedingly difficult for majority of the people in this camp.
Ajok hates war. “War is bad, it's destructive. There are many skeletons out there of people who would still be alive were it not for this madness. If I could talk to Kony I would ask him to surrender and bring this senseless maiming, killing and suffering to the people of northern Uganda to an end,” she wished.
Ajok is the personification of what a senseless war can do to the young. She symbolizes the devastation and poverty emanating from a murderous rebel outfit on the loose and what the destruction of socio-economic and political systems of an area can do and the urge to positively push on in life.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or
@Copyright reserved

Monday, August 02, 2010

Appreciate ordinary protectors of ecosystems

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] No doubt, some of those who live and farm next to important ecosystems conserve and protect these natural systems that are endowed with multifunctional life supporting services.
According to Thomas Yatich of the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre, ecosystems provide critical services but the communities who conserve and influence the quality and quantity of their life supporting products are hardly recognized.
“The services include provisionary ones such as timber, food and fibre, regulatory services such as microclimatic and carbon cycles, supportive ones such as soil fertility and those mediated by culture like the Kaya Bombo forest protected for its cultural values,” said Yatich.
However, the ecosystems, according to Yatich, have become degraded over time, as have the services associated with them. Evolutionary and political reasons as well as inadequate policy framework, among other factors, account for this.
In the pre-colonial period, said Yatich, most ecosystems remained intact because of traditional structures and values governing natural resources. “But in the colonial days people were translocated into lowlands, and forests were turned into farmland for products that were exported to Europe,” he said.
After independence, Africans who took leadership perfected the colonial regulations. Land use driven by policies, like those on food security, turned more forest areas into agricultural land. “Population increase led to high demand for food and, therefore, a move to convert more forested areas into to agricultural lands,” said Yatich, adding, “Innovations like the shamba system were aimed at addressing food security and forestation but farmers killed trees to prolong their stay on such lands.”
There has also been the failure of linkages between extension services and farmers’ land use methods in different agroecological zones. While there have been some multi-sectoral acts and policies, these have not only been inadequate but also done little to protect ecosystems.
But even bigger, according to Yatich, has been the lack of appreciation of the role of farmers in different ecological zones. Farmers have been reciprocating government demands, but their roles in influencing the quality and quantity of specific ecosystem services have not been recognized.
“For instance, do Nairobi residents appreciate farmers in upland areas that give them water” Yatich posed. The lack of appreciation can also be blamed on beneficiaries of those services like utility companies providing water, electricity, among others.
Poor linkages between policy and science manifest themselves in farmers upstream pursuing destructive land use practices that would not have happened had they been appreciated and rewarded.
Farmers’ activities upstream can cause water contamination and devastation of ecosystems, which in turn interferes with hydroelectric production.
The law might be clear in relation to protection of landscapes, but the enforcement is wanting and there is disconnect between law and practice.
Appreciate protectors of ecosystems
The World Agroforestry Centre, Yatich said, is now working on mechanisms to put acceptance and appreciation of farmers at the center of ecosystems protection. If implemented, this will result in less harmful land uses and make beneficiaries appreciate farmers’ roles.
The scheme, he said, was introduced in Southeast Asia to reward upland farmers for environmental services they produce.
The Centre is now pioneering this approach in Africa through seven sites including Sasumwa catchment and the upper Aberdares in Kenya where sedimentation and contamination are acute.
“If you reward farmers then you can save a lot,” observed Yatich who is now advocating for a structured appreciation of farmers by utility firms. In western Kenya in the Nyando and Yala river basins, the Centre has been carrying out scientific analysis since 1999. Similar activity is being conducted in Mount Kenya east, the main source of hydropower in the country.
In Tanzania, the Centre is working in the east and west Usambaras, Gulugurus Mountains, and in Uganda the Centre is active in the Albertine rift. West Africa has the Futajalon islands as a targeted area and in Malawi the project is located in Nchitsi district.
Site level enforcement establishes the state of the ecosystem, the existing ecosystem services and what can be done to reverse deterioration. Watershed delineation, land use mapping and other much needed activities are being carried out. “We identify the hotspots through land degradation assessment. We do hydrological analysis for changes caused by land use as well as water quality assessment and environmental acidity. We carry out socio-economic analyses as well,” stated Yatich.
“If you come up with scenarios on the impact to farmers, and the cost of transition and project money that utility companies will save, then you would draft a reward scheme for better land uses such as contour faming, agroforestry and planting trees. These will ultimately reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
But solid scientific evidence is needed to design a work plan, incentive mechanisms for the reward scheme, and to create institutional means that bring producers of ecosystem services and beneficiaries together for the betterment of ecosystems, and their sustainable use.
“There is potential for changing farming methods through the provision of extension services, encouraging sustainable practices, and offering incentives for organic farming,” he said.
“This is a process that fosters collective action and collective learning, and social capital is required for increased cover and reduced runoff,” said Yatich.
It also entails monitoring the impact of trees planted, and can show beneficiaries the important role of farmers so that they “invest in recognition.”
Need for a policy framework
Bits and pieces of acts and policies exist, but there is need for a comprehensive policy framework that fosters the kind of work the Centre is active in. “We are being systematic and this is crucial for the kind of action we are piloting across Africa.”
“We started in 2008 and now we have site level implementing staff,” he said. The World Bank, European Union, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Government of Finland and national partners, including national governments, are implementing partners.
The Centre periodically engages with the private sector to increase awareness of the interplay between ecosystems and businesses. The World Agroforestry Centre coordinates and manages the programme and ensures quality science, provides capacity building, leveraging expertise and technical support (tools, approaches and methodologies), guarantees proper implementation of project activities in different sites, and is accountable to donors.

Agroforesty centre efforts to reverse African soil nutrients depletion

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[NAIROBI] For a continent where millions of people depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood and economic gains, the prospect of depleted soil fertility is not something one wants to hear.

But African soils are fast becoming nutrient deficient with low yields spelling a bleak future for many. Keith Shepherd, soil scientist with the Nairobi-based World Agroforesty Centre or ICRAF, said many factors account for the worrying scenario. “The organic matter in the soil has been mined intensely but supply has been suppressed. There has been low level of nutrient input,” he said. Because of this there isn’t enough nutrient supply for crops. The decline in organic matter has led to soils becoming physically degraded and has accelerated water run-off, which erodes the richer part of soils into water bodies. “This has led to progressive decline in water quality and increased siltation, especially in lakes and dams.”

Another important soil capital, phosphorous, is inherently low and this basic problem has not been addressed in Africa as opposed to other regions such as Australia, the US and Europe.

Many soils in Africa are also sensitive, including old lake deposits, and if you do not apply good farming methods the soils will be swept away leaving large portions less productive.

“Agricultural development,” he said, “was critical for poverty alleviation in Africa but despite this, there has been a decline in investment in agriculture in the last 30 years.

Not all is lost

“Both policy makers and scientists are now waking up to this,” said Shepherd. The realization is that without reviving the agricultural sector, the majority of people in Africa will remain stuck in a whirlpool of poverty and with ever diminishing ability to adapt to modern technologies.

“A lot can be done by improving support for farmers, like making inputs widely available, creating credit and supplying higher value crops,” Shepherd pointed out.

One of the ways of addressing the problem, according to Shepherd, is through agroforestry where farmers grow trees on farms along with other crops, and can use or sell products from their trees such as timber or fruits.

There are also trees that fixing of nitrogen in the soil and act as natural fertilizers. Another example is leguminous fodder trees which are grown by farmers in many places, including around Mount Kenya, to feed to dairy cows and goats.

Trees, Shepherd explained, can also be important for stabilizing ecological systems, and farmers can benefit from woodlots and planting trees on boundaries.

The World Agroforestry Centre is now involved in many projects aimed at replenishing the diminishing African soil capital for better yields and improved livelihoods.
“One of our main projects is to contribute to the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) to enable stakeholders to get better information on problems and opportunities relating to soils in Africa,” he said. Taking advantage of georeferencing, the scientists are now sampling and analysing soils from all over sub-Saharan Africa.

Through infra-red spectroscopy - whereby light is shone on the soil sample and the reflected light collected back as a spectral signature - together with new similar x-ray techniques, it is possible to get information on the amounts and types of minerals and chemical elements in the soil. From this, the type and quantities of nutrients in a particular area can be determined and the amount of water it can hold and thus helping to advise on optimal soil management.

Through AfSIS, the Centre and its partners are currently involved in soil survey across sub-Saharan Africa using randomly located sampling sites. Regional field crews in Tanzania, Mali, and Malawi study landforms, vegetation, and measure trees for biomass and water infiltration rates.

“This program started a year ago and is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and is hosted by the Centre’s sister institute, the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT-TSBF)” he explained. The project is also conducting crop testing trials to see how soils respond to fertilizers. “When we work in a particular country we train national teams from national programmes to contribute to the African Soil Information Service to help improve national services”

Advice to different stakeholders

A key goal of the World Agroforestry Centre says Shepherd, is to give advice to different stakeholders ranging from farmers to policy makers and development banks on constraints faced and appropriate land management interventions, like the right agroforestry and soil management techniques for different types of soils and locations. A key need in getting information to farmers, he said, is the building of national and private extension services for advising farmers on appropriate crops and trees, for example for acidic soils. There is also increasing opportunity, he pointed out, to get information to farmers through local internet services and mobile phone services.

At a national level, the Centre provides advice to governments in planning agricultural development programmes for different areas, in developing policies for protection of the environment, and on the role of agroforestry in these developments.

The Centre’s information is made available to the donor community and development banks to provide guidance on funding and support that they could be directed at agriculture. “Agriculture is vital for economic development, poverty alleviation and basic food security, and there will be a lot of spin-offs like processing of food and tree products for internal and external markets,” said Shepherd.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo, the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for ( is a Nairobi journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is also English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

Monday, July 19, 2010

Will Cancun restore faith and confidence in climate change negotiations?

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[Nairobi] December 6, 2009 was thought of as significant day that was going to grip the attention of world with focus glued to the Bella Center in Copenhagen where the United Nations Climate Change summit was taking place until December 18. The expectations were both high and low.
The roadmap to Copenhagen was mostly on haggling over the reaching of a legally binding agreement on Green House Gas emissions reduction with set targets that becomes effective when the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012 or a politically binding one.
Denmark hosting the summit had been rooting for politically binding agreement instead of legally binding protocol and wanted a plan to delay any deal to mid-2010.
This came against a backdrop where some of the western countries were reluctant for an agreement that will compel them to meet certain targets on emissions reduction and the United States refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is case in history.
US president, Barack Obama, acknowledged on November 13, 2009 that a legally binding deal was impossible in Copenhagen. Worth noting was the fact that he had to first deal with a reluctant Senate to pass domestic laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions before he could agree to an international deal, a requirement that has stalled the talks.
Obama’s comments were received as serious blow to efforts aimed at getting meaningful agreement by the close of business on December 18 “We do not need a politically binding agreement as it will give room to big GHG emitters like the US and Canada to get away with it,” said Tove Marie Ryding of the Greenpeace
Her argument was that the 2007 report of the Inter-Panel on Climate Change by climate change scientists was clear that if the world does not act now and drastically reduce Green House Gas emissions, there will be serious socio-economic and environmental disaster that includes sea level rise, extreme climatic cycles like prolonged droughts and flooding, upsurge in disease burden, among many others.
According to the then executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yves de Boer, the Copenhagen agreement was to include a set or package of forward looking and “politically accountable” conclusions.
These were to include a list of individual 2020 targets for industrialised countries, what major developing countries will do about growth paths and limiting emissions, what individual countries will commit to in terms of a start up funding, formula on how cost of future adaptation and mitigation will be shared and Conference of Parties decisions on capacity building, mitigation, adaptation, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and a new institutional arrangement where necessary.
GHG Emissions reduction
At this fifteenth edition of the Conferences of Parties aimed a getting consensus and agreement on reduction of GHG said to be causing global warming beyond required level was not just be the burden for the developed word but also what the developing countries can do to mitigate the situation and to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change..
Scientists in 2007 said the developed countries-the major contributors to atmospheric pollution through emission of dangerous gasses like carbon dioxide and methane-must reduce their emissions by 20-40 percent compared to 1990 when climate change movement started by 2020.
But they said thereafter that they underestimated it and that glaciers were now melting at a much faster rate; that the reduction should move up to 80 percent.
“We listen to science and when scientists say that glaciers are melting at a very fast rate; that we are moving to a tipping point where major changes may occur, we realise the urgency of getting legally binding agreement out of Copenhagen summit with clearly set targets,” said Ryding.
She said scientist are also saying that by the end of this century, if it remains business as usual, there could be sea level rise of 2 meters wiping out many small island states.
Climate change scientists and some western political establishments are also arguing that the developing countries where China is fast industrialising and currently ranked the highest polluter in the world must reduce their emissions.
Climate change reductions pundits are proposing a 13-20 percent reduction compared to Business As Usual. “The developing world can emit but not increase and move towards a greener development direction,” Ryding concurred. But the Copenhagen meeting ended up in botched-up discussion that succeeded in having no success for tangible for GHG emissions reduction and only creating huge mistrust among nations of the world, especially the developed against the developing world
Replacing the Kyoto protocol.
As we move to COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, the search for a new legally binding deal, led by the United Nations though the US argued could not be reached in Copenhagen and that there was need for more time to hammer appropriate agreement hence the need for political binding outcome will be one of the main issues.
Those who argued that a politically binding agreement would be suicidal as it is essentially non- enforceable will be rooting for second commitment off the Kyoto Protocol in Cancun.
They argue that, save for its weak compliance mechanisms, it is the only legal global climate change agreement that has a set of rules to be relied.
“What we need is a complete legally binding agreement and ambitious targets for emissions reduction and finances for adaptation,” Paul Erik Lauridsen of CARE Denmark said. He said the developed countries must accept to reduce their emissions but the developing world must also have their targets.
The African position through the Africa Ministerial Council on Environment is that the Kyoto protocol must not be replaced but strengthened. Much haggling is expected on this at the negotiations.
Adaptation Needs
Another issue expected to dominate the proceedings is the financing of adaptation by the developed north in the global south being pushed by the developing word who have contributed very little to the global warming but are the most vulnerable and worst hit by impacts of climate change.
They argue that the purpose of adaptation financing and availing of appropriate technology to the developing nations by the developed world is not to lift them out poverty but protect the poor against effects of climate change caused by the industrialised countries as they developed over the years.
Green peace’s Ryding says its estimated that adaptation will cost about US$ 150 billion annually but the developing world are demanding an agreement out of Copenhagen for about US$ 200 billion annually for adaptation. China and India that are emerging economies are more for technological transfers from the west for green development to adapt rather than financial assistance.
The developing world position is that the developed world should pay up for global warming since they made their wealth out of industrial pollution.
Twenty percent of global emissions are from destruction of tropical forests and their protection is being considered one of the major solutions to tackling climate change. But forest, because of their life supporting services, has many people depending on them and removing them all over suddenly would lead to serious socio-economic disasters.
The issue is expected to also feature prominently at the conference, especially who shod benefit from the money coming out of forest protection; will it be the central government or the indigenous people who have been living in the forest for centuries.
Massive attendance
The Copenhagen meeting had a massive attendance estimated at over 15,000 delegates that included President Obama of the USA. More than 20,000 NGOs registered for the summit while accreditation for journalists was in excess 5,000. It is not yet clear whether Cancun will draw such a huge crowd but it will definitely be an important summit expected mostly to restore faith and confidence in climate change negotiations

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist and the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for .He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

Agriculture: Need for paradigm shift in Africa

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[Nairobi] Application of knowledge and appropriate technology is critical for increased agricultural productivity for the rural poor in the developing world, especially Africa, Emanuel Tambi, Economist, Senior Policy Officer, Rural Economy Division at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa has said.

This should be the new paradigm shift in agricultural growth in the developing world, especially in Africa, where majority of the rural poor depend on it as source livelihood and somewhat economic empowerment.

“In order to successfully meet challenges of globalization, developing countries, in general, and Africa, in particular, must place science and technology at the heart of their development policy,” he said.

He, however, recognized that, as continent with countries having primarily agriculture economies, Africa is confronted with limited human and material resources in scientific and technological fields, and therefore has problem incorporating science and technology into its development policies.

It is for this that his department is currently working with Regional Economic Communities, members states, research institutes such as International Livestock Research Institute and IFPRI, civil society organisations as well as development partners to move forward the agenda for research and technology.

Professor Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, IFPRI’s director for International Service for National Agricultural Research Division said in many parts of the developing world, mostly Africa, agriculture plays an important role in national development in terms of employment and national wealth creation.

The pervasive poverty in many parts of these countries cannot be tackled sufficiently without paying attention to production and market development for agricultural products.

To cope with the demand factors and emerging global issues, actors in the food and agriculture value chain need to innovate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“The good news is that there has been steady progress in African agriculture over the last few years with growth rates increasing from 2 percent per annum in the 1990s to about 5 percent in the 2000s,” he told the forum.

But to sustain this, Okyere stated, there is need for extraction of economic, ecosystem and social value from knowledge which involves putting ideas, knowledge and technology to work in a manner that brings about a significant improvement in performance.

A lot of knowledge, he explained, already exist and can be used to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder farmer in the rural settings where more than 50 percent depend on agriculture.

But there are no proper linkages for knowledge mobility from institutions of learning, research and different actors to get innovation to work to advance food and agriculture and this call for new approaches to capacity building.

The first stage of capacity building development, he pointed out, should be at the universities or institutions of higher learning to make them innovate and become efficient.

“It has been demonstrated that students retain 90 percent of concept or method if they teach others, 75 percent if they practice by doing, 50 percent if they are involved in a discussion but only five percent through lectures,” he said.

Scientists and students should talk to farmers and see how best they could infuse their [farmers] indigenous knowledge with those in formal educational systems and pass it on for accelerated agricultural production in the developing world.

The next level of capacity building is that of farmers to make them adopt new knowledge and technologies as well as improve on the existing ethnic agricultural knowledge to step up agricultural growth for food and poverty reduction.

Okyere also said for knowledge to be generated and used effectively for innovation in agricultural development there must be innovators in organizations, institutions, technologies and policies that are involved in the process.

Joachim Von Braun, Director of IFPRI challenged Africa and the rest of the developing world to develop their basic science, build practical technical education programmes on agriculture at higher institutions of learning and tap into existing indigenous knowledge to improve agricultural production for food security and wealth creation for the rural poor.

“Agriculture is a major source of employment in the developing world and also a vital source of food for majority of rural populations,” said Braun

Yet agricultural education and research is not being felt on the ground because of lack direct connection between scientists, students and the smallholder farmer who needs knowledge to adopt innovative methods of farming for increased yields.

Most agriculture students, he explained, do have practical experience and thus the big gap between knowledge and innovation and reality on the ground in the end. Africa, he told meting should make agriculture part of its higher education technical programme as one of the means in innovatively addressing food insecurity and poverty reduction in rural settings.

It should be part of the learning process right from secondary education level and Africa should also build up its basic science and not keep knocking on the doors of the western institutions for solutions.

Africa and the developing world must build their own biological, physical and chemistry sciences and use that knowledge at all levels of food and agricultural systems,” said Braun.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist and the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for .He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Water and sanitation provision still a huge challenge for Africa

By Ochieng’ Ogodo
In the small hours of the morning, Caren Adhiambo gathered herself out of bed and wiped her face with the back of her right hand before picking a 20 litre jerican and venturing into the night.
Her mission this early was one; getting water. In Nairobi’s Kibera slum where she lives water is a scarce commodity. “I have lived here for five years and each passing day is a struggle for water,” she resignedly said.
Often they have to do about five kilometers to fetch water from boreholes in other neighborhoods like Dagoreti corner where a 20 liter jerrican of water retails for KSh. 3 at the minimum.
Houses with tap water are very few in this habitat estimated to house more than 300,000 people. Apart from private water taps they also get water from tankers hovering around, some marked “clean soft water.” They buy it without seeking to know source.
In Adhiambo’s household of seven, they use six jerricans a day and washing clothes is once a week. “Here there are no Nairobi City Council public water taps thus leaving us at the mercy of private water tap owners and tankers,” she pointed out adding they do not get rather cheap water.
The price ranges from KSh.3 to KSh.10 per twenty liter jerrican. “We have to queue for long hours to get water and we buy it expensively.”
Milka Achieng’ is lucky to have piped water in her house but she has to share a pit latrine with several other families exposing them to great danger incase of an outbreak of a contagious disease related to ecological sanitation.
The mother of three said most people use “flying toilets”-polythene paper bags where they defecate and then thrown out through the windows into the open neighbourhood.
“Most plots here do not have pit latrines or toilets and people use paper bags to defecate and throw them out into the open. You have to be careful when walking on the paths here lest you step on faeces,” she said.
There are few public toilets constructed by the government recently to improve sanitation but the demand far outstrip them according to Achieng’
There are many people without water taps or toilets in Kibera. “We are suffering greatly when it comes to toilets and faecal matter is all over,” she explained.

Most people in rural Kenya grapple with a huge problem of access to water and sanitation. Photo: Ochieng Ogodo
In Kibera, there are no storm water drainage systems and people wade through dirt when it pours. “On water born diseases God is there for us.” Achieng’ said. This overcrowded dwelling has liter-biodegradable and non-biodegradable-strewn all over. Kibera is a microcosm of what goes on in slums in most African urban centers and clearly exemplifies the sorry state in provision of clean water and sanitation to many people in Africa, be it in urban or rural settings.
Unmet fundamental human rights
Provision of clean water and adequate sanitation is not only a fundamental human right but among measures of a country’s healthy living. However, inadequate provision of the two is still a huge problem in rural and urban Africa, especially in slums.
Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi of the Africa Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) said the problem is more acute in African slum areas compared to rural dwellings. But even in rural areas, she hastened to add, there is a huge problem of access to water and sanitation.
“In Africa 70 percent of the urban population live in slums under extremely difficult conditions when it comes to water and sanitation provision,” she said.
“Water, both in quality and quantity, is an important aspect of life irrespective of one’s social status. On average a person needs 20 liters a day,” she explained.
But whereas it is recognised that diseases associated with water are mostly water washed and water borne, not much is being done and this is a clear indication of a continent still unable to meet basic needs of its people.
“In many cases scarcity and quality go hand in hand and the poor bear the brunt of water washed and waterborne diseases,” Kyobutungi explained
While the need for safe water to be healthy and prevent diseases, especially from water borne diseases cannot be gainsaid those in slums suffer both. “In public heath terms you need both quality and quantity,” she said.
Sanitation and diseases has tight link
According to Kibyotungu, an associate research scientist at the Nairobi based APHRC, there is a tight link between sanitation and diseases. The first thing is a toilet but there is much more to this like having Ventilated Improved Pits.
Waste disposal, the drainage system and general environmental cleanliness influences diseases like malaria and cholera.
“Sanitation and supply of affordable clean water can influence the transmission of water diseases. But waste disposal is also important,” said her.
For Kenya, 20 percent of the country is urbanised but not much has been done to uplift these places out of the situation according to the researcher.
In Nairobi, for instance, public taps are only available to 3 percent of slum dwellers while in the entire city it is only to 15 percent of the inhabitants. Other urban areas have only 35 percent of the people accessing tap water and in the whole country only 11 percent have access for a population of over 36 million people.
“For the entire country, on average, only 34 percent have access to public tap or water right into their residences,” clarified Kyobutungi. Thirty-one percent nationally get their water from wells and springs and other sources. In Kenya rural areas most people do not have access to water.
In Nairobi those who live in slums pay more for water compared to other city residents as they buy 20 liter container between Ksh 2-10.
“This is eight times what other city residents pay and it happens irrespective of the fact that quality of water is questionable,” said Kyobutungi.
Slums are fertile grounds for exploitation by those who move around with water tankers and small containers in handcarts. Sources of their water and cleanliness are always questionable.
On sanitation only 7 percent of slum dwellers have flush toilets while for the whole of Nairobi it’s available to 56 percent of the over three million city dwellers. Kenya as a whole has only 12 percent with access to flush toilets according to Kyobutungi. In slums VIPs are only accessed by 6 percent while in rural areas those who have what can be called decent pit latrines is only six percent with entire country having only seven percent.
The whole of Nairobi has only 13 percent with VIP toilets. Flush toilets plus VIPs in Nairobi is accessed by 69 percent. For slums combined it is 12 percent.
For traditional pit latrines it is 73 percent for slums in Nairobi while Kenya as a whole only 66 percent access them. In slums 10 percent are without any such facilities while in the entire country 15 percent have no access to sanitation services at all.
“Visiting toilets in slum areas is not free and one has to part with between KSh.2-5 per visit and children are forced to ease themselves in their houses and throw these away in paper bags or just do so around their ramshackles,” Kyobutungi observed. Availability of the facility does not mean usage. It depends on their pockets.
“This,” said Kyobutungi “means it is a dire situation given it’s a basic need but has not been met.” And the consequences are many. Children both in rural and slum areas are vulnerable but with the latter being more exposed.

Dr. Kibyotungu

A third of children living in slums in Kenya must have been affected by diaorrhea at least in two weeks and 32 percent before the age of five shall have had diaorrhea episodes and this compares to 18 percent in the entire Nairobi and 21 percent for the whole country.
“This is already bad enough. Dehydration kills many children in slum areas and the more the episodes the more the chances that that the children will die,” she said. But even sadder is their mothers do not know what to do and health facilities are unavailable. Where there are medical facilities costs will deter many from visiting.
At night the problem is compounded with insecurity with muggers on the prowl and people even get fatally beaten. With diaorrhea children disease like pneumonia sets in and it becomes a vicious circle only stopped by death.
“It has a both mid and ultimate consequence, which is death” For children below 5 years 151 out of 1000 will die before their first birthday. For Nairobi it is 98 out of 1000. Most children in the slum areas die because of diarrhea and account for 20 percent of deaths there.
Little investment and thought have been given to this area. “Slums are illegal and the government cannot put infrastructure but again it has both legal and political connotations,” said Kyobutungi. There are about 80 slums in Nairobi alone with most of them over 40 years in existence.
Millennium Development Goals
According to A Snapshots of Drinking Water and Sanitation in Africa by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) the number of people without access to sanitation increased by 153 million from 430 million in 1990 to 583 million in 2006.
“The rate at which Africans gained access to sanitation, 153 million people since 1990, is insufficient to meet the MDG sanitation target,” the report says. Even more shocking is that 38 African countries in Africa have less than 50 percent sanitation coverage.
Whereas 605 million people had access to improved drinking water in 2006, thus a coverage increase of 56 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in 2008, those without access increased by 61 million from 280 million people in 1990 to 341 in 2006. This falls far short of the required number to meet MDG on drinking water by 2015.
MDG target 7c calls on countries to “Halve by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basics sanitation.” Africa is steel in lack of clean water and decent sanitation for majority of its population. This makes it indeed one of the big and urgent challenges for the content in the 21st century.
**Ochieng’ Ogodo, a Nairobi journalist, is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting and the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalist Association [KENSJA]. He can be reached at or