Tunataka Amani kwa Kenya / We Wish Peace for Kenya

In the summer of 2007, I spent two months living and working in Kenya with a youth group in the Kibera slums of Nairobi that had self-organized as SHOFCO, or Shining Hope for Communities, an association of young people dedicated to improving their own lives and opportunities for the future. It was during this trip that I met Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, who had worked extensively on issues of rural poverty, encouraging people to grow food gardens.  

As we remember the intense violence that occurred in January 2008 following the presidential elections, and look ahead to elections in March, we honour the work happening on the ground in Kenya to advocate for and promote peace.  This month, AJFAND has published an article devoted to Global Peace, while SHOFCO’s youth-run newsletter is devoted to the same subject.  Warm thanks to both organizations for their commitment to peace and to sharing their hopes and work through these written media.

AJFAND Volume 13, No. 1 Foreword (excerpt)

AJFAND online

The Year 2013 is already getting old. For us here in Kenya, it is our Jubilee year, marking 50 years since Kenya became independent from British colonialism after a hard fought war. People of my generation remember the celebrations, the hope that was exuded and the many promises our founding fathers made at the time, of better quality of life for all the citizens, who at the time were about 7 million.

Fifty years later, we are a population of approximately 44 million, with about 70% under the age of 35, many with a good education that was promised, but most of those educated now looking for jobs which are difficult to come by. I am aware unemployment is currently a problem world over, as economies struggle to survive; youth unemployment is even worse.

Exactly 5 years ago, around this time, Kenya was at the brink of disintegration, with vicious violence and burning, and massacres in a number of parts of the country, reason: The person that was expected to be announced as having won the election was relegated to the second slot. Prior to the elections, the polls were showing a close race, and in some cases, a tie. I see again now, the polls being used to sway the crowds, to say ”we are on the winning side and you better join us”. We need to sit back and keep reminding ourselves of what aspects were being set prior to the 2007 elections that might have contributed to the post-election violence then. I thought the US elections constituted TV drama for us; right now Kenyans are being treated to an even more intense drama right here at home. Why am I starting my Foreword for issue 56 of AJFAND with this? Well, I am aware most of my friends are aware of the political situation that is pertaining in Kenya now, and are worried about me and our country, given what happened in 2007/2008. Let me tell you that many Kenyans are also anxious and have resorted to prayer and fasting, and are hoping that all will be well. We are doing more than that though.

There are peace rallies, many of them spearheaded by young people. Everywhere people are preaching peace. Even as our government assures us of security, Kenyans are not sure because even in these “normal times”, there are many parts of the country like the Tana and northern Kenya which are not safe. This makes world news.

Editorial

Without Global Peace, we can never eradicate hunger or food insecurity, let alone enjoy the food we eat. Is it just me who is feeling it, or the world is truly seem more troubled? Are our leaders investing enough in trying to understand these trends? The world is now indeed a global village. The conflicts in different parts of the world, whether in Syria or in Mali or terrorist attacks in Nigeria or in my own country of Kenya, come to us direct on our media screens and more and more on our mobile phones.

We now live with these issues on a day-to-day basis. Strange occurrences are taking place all over the world; in addition to man precipitated events, there are also increased natural events, such as killer storms and floods. Then we have human tragedies such as child shootings in the USA and men exterminating their families for reasons not easy to understand. As we travel, we are made aware of the possible risks and threats out there that could manifest in different forms; it is the same when we enter buildings, when we walk in malls, and even when we live in our traditional homes in the villages. No one is spared.  I remember years back attending a seminar on bioterrorism and at the time, it sounded far-fetched; that is not the case anymore.

There are so many other situations which both you and I are aware of. In the past, we have worried about nuclear warfare; but just think about the many weapons that could be used to mass-kill? Are human minds being impacted differently by modern technology? Are we investing enough in forensic audits or in research on how the human mind is being affected by new events, new situations, new inventions? We talk of climate change as if it is an isolated event. What else is changing? Whatever we do, if we do not keep our eyes on the food situation, we may regret. There is so much going on that is diverting our thinking away from how we shall feed the world in the coming years, that it is about time this issue became our leaders’ priority. Even those in wars have to be fed, and those on the run from wars and disasters have to be fed too.

What we call climate change is being manifested in severe drought events where there have not been any, torrential rain for longer periods that could affect crop maturity and sun-drying of grain (for example in East Africa), new volcano eruptions, mudslides killing hundreds of people, and avalanches causing havoc. All these events disrupt lives and cause suffering for families, because there does not appear to be early warning signs in some of these areas, to enable mitigation arrangements. Lives are lost, property is destroyed and mothers, children and the elderly become more vulnerable. To fix all this requires money at a time when world economies are struggling. When people face financial challenges, or are uncertain about the future, their temperaments will clearly be affected. I know it happens to me. Whenever my mood changed when I was bringing up my children, they would ask me:  “Mummy, what has happened?” It is worse when you have others that depend on you. These “others” could be your parents who no longer have an income, your own children who have been used to a certain lifestyle or “others” such as orphans that you support as a charity function.  I recall during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, I had 67 orphans/vulnerable children I was supporting with my own salary, and my worry afterwards was more about these children, whose futures had been shattered for no fault of theirs, and less about my own personal and economic security.

Immediately following this violence, Kenya was short of food and in fact our development partners had to come to our aid. As I open my computer to access my yahoo account, I am confronted by news, mostly bad, and of very strange happenings. A former journalist friend of mine told me: “Ruth, bad news sells”. While it sells and we read it, how are our brains affected? How do you explain criminal actions of a seemingly intelligent, quiet and friendly person with no criminal history? Are we seeing more and more of these cases, or is it just that now I can be in a village in Kenya and read of such an event happening in Australia? And if I have a criminal mind, will I be influenced by certain actions? What then triggers such minds to go into negative action? I am not a psychiatrist but being a teacher, I better be able to understand a bit of human nature. Are we investing enough in understanding these emerging events? We can talk of ensuring food security for all, which for now appears a battle we are losing, but we need to understand these new unsettling events, and try to do something about them. Can we use our efforts in agriculture to preach peace? How do we engage everyone in some productive action, good action that is? In my own country, young people do not want to be told” you are leaders of tomorrow”. Not anymore. They want to be leaders now because they feel left behind and out by successive governments, and by adults.

Young people have degrees because we wanted to have education, but what do we do when there are no jobs? We spend far too much time on other things than ensuring peaceful co-existence. With peaceful co-existence, we can focus of the right things in life, especially according to what your own religion teaches. Otherwise, as we hull abuses at others on the internet because nobody can see us, nations fight against each other, and we discriminate against other as if it were a right, we shall wake up to a disaster that wipes out our ability to feed ourselves and our loved ones, and at that time, we shall have NO choice.

Leaders need to invest more in peace efforts. Almost everywhere in the world, people are either in the streets demonstrating or fighting, for different reasons. In some areas citizens have realized that their rights are being violated and are, therefore, demanding them; in others, citizens want a piece of the national cake; in others still certain groups feel it is their turn to ascend to power; in others more, citizens are protesting long standing dynasties as they do not consider these democratic. In all these situations, emergency food aid is called for. In these situations of personal safety threats, food production takes a back seat as people are forced to move from their own areas of food production. Personal safety is paramount for food and nutrition safety, for personal growth and for national development. These are issues for us all to ponder.

By Ruth Oniang’o

Ruth was educated in Kenya and in the USA . She has worked in Kenya throughout her professional life, gaining her international experience through meetings and conferences and through participation in multi-national dialogues. Beyond her academic training, she has spent a considerable amount of time researching talking about food security and hunger issues. Ruth K. Oniang’o is the executive director of the Rural Outreach Program, a non-profit development organization that empowers women through agriculture and entrepreneurial projects. Prof.(Dr.) Oniang’o was a nominated member of Kenya ’s ninth parliament from 2003-2007 and served as Shadow Minister for Education. As a parliamentarian, she was Vice-Chair of Kenya’s Women Parliamentary Association and worked on the Sexual Offences Bill with fellow women colleagues, a landmark bill regarding punishment for sexual violence in Kenya and championed the passing of the Kenya Biosafety Bill and the Nutritionists and Dietetics Bills. Before becoming a member of the Kenyan Parliament, she was Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi , Kenya. Her areas of research and consultation are household food and nutrition security, women’s nutrition, child health, and community-level agro-processing and related enterprises. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Development ( AJFAND).She serves on a number of Boards (HarvestPlus, IRRI, IFDC until a year ago) to name a few.

Shining Hope for Communities Newspaper – Peace Edition

Click to read the Ghetto Mirror Peace Edition

Shining Hope for Communities combats intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality by linking tuition-free schools for girls to essential social services for all through a holistic, community-driven approach. By concretely linking essential health and economic services to a school for girls, we demonstrate that benefiting women benefits the whole community, cultivating a community ethos that makes women respected members of society.

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Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

Linking Peace and Food Security Research

Irena Knezevic was one of the students in the PeaceMeal Project‘s first cohort of students for the online course offered through the National Peace Academy. Here, she describes her work with FoodARC and a presentation she gave to tie in her learning from the course with her professional life in food security research.

FoodARC is a food security research centre at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (We were formerly known as the Participatory Action Research and Training Centre on Food Security.) Our research is community-based and action oriented.  We also train students and create opportunities for mutual learning among researchers, community members, and policy makers.

légumes

Here at FoodARC we look at food from many angles – we focus on food security, but see how we define it:
“Food security exists when everyone has access to safe, nutritious food of the variety and amount that they need and want, in a way that maintains their dignity. Food security also exists when people are able to earn a living wage by growing, producing, processing, handling, selling, and serving food, as well as when our planet is protected for future generations.”
Clearly, by focusing on one concern – food security – we in fact encompass a range of issues. Affordability, farmers and fishers’ livelihoods, processing and distribution, ecology, food skills, community engagement with food, policy and social justice – we are interested in all of that.
We recently hosted a brown-bag lunch with three presentations. One graduate student (Nadia Pabani) presented on her work with PhotoVoice – an innovative method meant to inspire creative contributions from research participants. Another graduate student (Kendra Read) spoke about her collaboration with the national student organization Meal Exchange and the work she is doing in the area of “knowledge mobilization” – the process of turning research findings into action.
My role in this session was to present on my recent experience of taking the PeaceMeal online course. My presentation notes will give you a glimpse of my reflection on the course, but they will not quite do the justice to the course, or properly portray how the course helped me make connections between peace-building and what I do. How, one may wonder, are food security research and peace-building connected?

Mufaqarah Part 12: Paradise lost

The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.

The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.

On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.

Drying the grain
Laying the grain out to dry. Continue reading

Mufaqara: Reflections and Gifts

Living the resistance in Susya.
After the excitement of the last entry, I think it’s time for some quieter agrarian observations. I’m entering the last quarter of my time here so I’ve been able to see a little bit and can make some comments on some issues that will interest farmers and permaculturalists. Apologies to those of you who aren’t as interested in the technical side of peace and agriculture.

The farming system here has three major crops: grain, olives and sheep/goats. There are some auxiliary things as well like vegetables such as cucumber, tomato and zucchini. Some people in the village keep turkeys, and there are young fruit trees around. Let’s take a look at the major crops, just as a way to examine the system.

I love the olives. From a Permaculture point of view, they are wonderful. They are a native plant, which means they are well used to the area, including the climate, and resistant to local would-be pests. The olives are fairly easy to harvest by shaking the tree. Their oil is really healthy and tasty. The olive while it is on the tree is quite bitter, and therefore resistant to things that would like to eat it. But soaking it in water leaches the bitter substance and the olive becomes good to eat. In other words, the olive is uniquely well suited to human use because none of the other life out there is really able to process the olives into tasty food. This makes it easy to grow because there aren’t a whole lot of others trying to eat it before we do. The farmer here get about one tenth of the harvest per area as US growers do which suggests room for improvement as far as a cash-strapped farmer is concerned. However, olive growing nevertheless seems a popular occupation.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.

The grain in this area is often wheat, meant for human consumption. In Mufaqara it is mostly barley, meant for the livestock. In any case, Palestine is part of the Fertile Crescent and grain is, although domesticated and therefore genetically changed, a native crop. There is no doubt that the centuries of breeding have heavily modified the plants but they nevertheless remain deeply suited to this climate. Grains are well matched to the rain cycle; they grow up during the rainy season, and ripen during the dry season. In a place like south eastern Ontario, Canada, there are constant problems with rain during the harvest time, and often lack of rain during the growing period. Not so much in Palestine, although I suppose the yield of both straw and grain could be raised by careful water management. Such management wouldn’t be difficult if the people here could secure sovereignty over their cisterns and water table. Continue reading

Mufaqara 10: Avigail

When I return from Bethlehem there is a neighboring shepherd who has decided that it’s time to graze his fields right next to the outpost known as Avigail. Outposts are small Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, unrecognized by Israeli law.

Avigail is only a few years old, in contrast to Mufaqara’s considerable age. Yet Avigail has a normal electrical system, running water and plenty of above ground buildings. There is even a pizzeria. None of this is allowed for Palestinians. The campaign that Mufaqara is running to build their own above-ground houses and infrastructure brings this point in frequently; they are simply trying to implement the same systems that they see their neighbors building. Throughout the history of the Palestinian village’s struggle, they have timed their efforts to coincide with their neighbors in order to highlight this point. For example, when the Israeli neighbors got electricity, Mufaqara saw this and subsequently built their own power pylons with clear public statements that if the colonizing Israelis are allowed to install electricity, native Palestinians should be able to do so also. The Israeli military destroyed Mufaqara’s power pylons and left Avigail’s alone.

It’s this sort of treatment, where Israelis are allowed to do things that Palestinians aren’t, that results in the term “Israeli Apartheid”. There are all sorts of rules like this, even streets that Israelis can walk down but Palestinians can’t, roads that only Israelis can use. Normally only Israelis are allowed to build wells, have water towers, have a normal electrical system, leave Palestine without permission and last, but not least, own guns.
Some people don’t like the term “Israeli Apartheid” because it implies that Israel is a legitimate state. I see their point but at least I think the second part is very apt, and I might mention that this is affirmed by the government of South Africa.

In this context, Avigail is sitting on the hill next to Mufaqara, a technically illegal settlement which is left alone because it is populated by Israelis rather than Palestinians. As we are about to see, it is not only left alone but supported and helped to expand by a willing Israeli military.

As I previously described, but am happy to repeat, the way outposts like Avigail expand and take over more land is by scaring farmers away from their borders with intimidation or direct violence. Then, when the shepherds or olive orchardists have been unable to access their land for three years, the land is declared abandoned. The government then takes it and hands it over to the settlers. The process iterates with new borders. Emphasis is laid on areas that will amalgamate existing colonies and cut the Palestinian territory up into isolated sections which have difficulty coordinating and resisting the advancing colonization. You can recognize this as the old tactic of Divide and Conquer manifested in a physical way (as opposed to the also common psychological divide and conquer techniques). I’ve written previously how this is happening to Bethlehem, which is being prepared for an economic siege by surrounding it with settlements, and how Mufaqara is in between two colonies which are trying to amalgamate.

The shepherd we are with today is foiling this process of land appropriation by using his land and documenting it, despite intimidation from one of the strongest armies in the world. He is a non-violent resistance fighter.
Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.

Two people from Operation Dove and myself are accompanying the shepherd to document the process. Continue reading

A Poem for Peace

Thank you to guest contributor Robert Hicks from St. Catharines, Ontario, for this lovely contribution to our peaceful food efforts!

there is as much hunger for peace in this world
as there is for bread.
war
 starves us all.

there is as much love in the home of your enemy
as there is in your own.
love unites us all.

there is as much need for understanding
in this world as there is for forgiveness.
reconciliation can save us all.

to satisfy the worlds hunger for peace
we must feed ourselves with good judgment,
we must feed our governments with good advice,
and we must feed all others with tolerance, goodwill, compassion and respect.

we must make our voices more powerful
than the most powerful weapon on earth.

we must and we can make peace now!