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Odenda Lumbumba of Kenya Land Alliance says that Kenya’s drought is not just the result of climate change – it’s also the result of failed public policy

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DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network, I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore. Kenya, like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, is in the grip of a deadly drought exacerbated by climate change. This past February, the Government declared a national drought emergency. The Kenya National elections are taking place on August 8th, Tuesday, and tensions of fear and violence is said to be high with thousands leaving major cities like Nairobi. As food prices sky rocket, land shortages and food security have become a major election issue. With us to discuss these issues is Odenda Lumumba. He’s the head of the Kenya Land Alliance, a group that works on land reform in Kenya. Thanks so much for joining us today. ODENDA LUMUMBA: Thanks, too, for inviting me to your program. DHARNA NOOR: Now, talk about Kenya’s loss of usable farmland. How dramatic has it been and over what period of time? ODENDA LUMUMBA: Kenya has been facing a food crisis since 2006, and this has been caused by drought climate change but much so by policy choices. We have hard situations that have caused the small scale farmers who are the main food producers not being [inaudible 00:01:21] in terms of producing the food that is required. When they produce it in abundance it doesn’t reach the market because of the poor infrastructure, because of lack of better access to markets, but, much more so because the policy that we have been facing have been emphasizing … Kenya has been emphasizing on other sectors other than focusing squarely on agriculture which is the mainstay for the Kenyan people. DHARNA NOOR: And a recent study from NASA suggest that over 40 million Africans are struggling to survive off land with decreasing agricultural potential. What kind of regional response has there been to dealing with this crisis? ODENDA LUMUMBA: I think there have been very different responses. The most stable intervention would have been irrigable agriculture because of the changing conditions in climate. But there have been also responding just giving food responses in terms of food relief, food for work, in situations trying to help food for the children and women who are basically lactating women. On a broader scale, the bigger problem has been that there has been dwindling acreage of small scale farmers acreage vis a vis the medium scale farm holding. The exchange has been that the smallholders have been bought out they have been selling their land out of distress to medium income holders who are basically retirees … people who are retiring at 60 plus are the ones who are now joining agriculture. So, to the extent the age of the farmer has come to be associated with 62 and above. Yet, that is the point of diminishing energies. The youth between 15 and 35 are hardly having any land and they don’t engage in agriculture such and that has really worsened the situation given the fact that not much has been mechanized in agriculture at the moment. DHARNA NOOR: And these food shortages we understand have become a major influence in the country’s upcoming elections. How have you seen that playing out in the media or in the presidential candidate’s campaigns? ODENDA LUMUMBA: It has been quite spot on. The opposition has accused the incumbent government for doing little in terms of maintaining food security. It has been accused of corruption that has lead to lack of inputs in agriculture, it has been accused of diverting money which was meant for some of the interventions which had been tried on like irrigable agriculture and essentially we have been running short of major foodstuffs, the staples maize being one of them, sugar, milk have been running short. But interestingly also those incumbent have been accused of conflict of interest because when you ask who is processing milk, who is the miller you find those in government high up mixing up in business. DHARNA NOOR: So, where in Kenya are the main conflicts taking place? Is this mainly a rural issue, are there particular geographies that are being affected in Kenya? ODENDA LUMUMBA: Yes, I think it has just been a question of policy choices. I must say that since 2008 there has been a lot of emphasize on exploration of other commodities especially in terms of minerals which has been a focus and the expectation that that will turn around the economy. There has been sheer neglect of agriculture and where agriculture there has been intervention has been almost on large scale foreign direct investment. And yet, at the same time, that has been seen as land grab by the local especially where they have been trying to get to areas with irrigable water especially in wetland places. DHARNA NOOR: In wetland places. Okay, so we also know that Kenya has seen a lot of political conflict along ethnic lines, for instance in the 2007-2008 election. Has the drought triggered conflict along ethnic lines, economic lines? ODENDA LUMUMBA: I think it has triggered conflict at the level of the political lines because in that situation of arable areas, the people indigent claim that their land has been taken by others from other zones and that also caused a lot of displacement. A lot of people were displaced to almost tune of 650,000 people were displaced from arable areas. And also those who could have invest in some of these areas, the prime areas, they have been a bit hesitant especially when it comes around election time because they are not sure what that will gain them. But of course the whole idea has also been about marginalization. Some of the areas with wetlands, with water which is a main ingredient in agriculture, have been … have … there are areas that people are vulnerable and whose economic fortunes have been dwindling over time. DHARNA NOOR: If you would, talk a little more about the political landscape … incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and I understand his main rival, Raila Odinga. Are they or the other candidates addressing the food and land crisis in their campaigns in any real way? ODENDA LUMUMBA: Incidentally we may say as we say here locally that there are two main horses that are riding very fast to the finishing line that is the coalition, the Jubilee coalition of Uhuru Kenyatta and the NASA coalition of Raila Odinga. The two are the only ones that have clear manifestos that are addressing some of these issues, the two are part of those that have been around in the system of leadership for quite a time, and definitely the choices of Kenya could be said as choice less choice between those who have been around leadership of the country since Independence. DHARNA NOOR: And you work on land policy in Kenya[crosstalk 00:07:53] talk about what your ideal land use policy would be. In your opinion what would properly deal with the food crisis? ODENDA LUMUMBA: I think our argument has always been that we need to broaden the land access to the majority who are in the rural areas, securing Kenya for them. Basically, securing Kenya for people in the pre-urban, who can do the pre-urban agriculture that feed the burgeoning population of urbanization in Kenya. So essentially one of our push has been always to broaden this queued distribution of land so that other than having a few people owning massive land that they don’t use efficiently and effectively could broaden the people that access land. That is where our argument has been especially for the youth who are energetic, the youth who could do more with land to be involved in agriculture other than having people have served elsewhere, they are retiring, their energies are drained and they want to go in agriculture. Definitely, there is no effective use of land as much as they could be having capital compared to the youth. DHARNA NOOR: Odenda Lumumba, the Head of the Kenya Land Alliance, a group that works on land reform, thank you so much for joining us today sir. ODENDA LUMUMBA: Thanks too. DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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Odenda Lumumba is a land rights activist and a founder Co-ordinator of the Kenya Land Alliance, a Policy, Land Laws and Institutional Reforms Advocacy Network. He is enrolled for PhD in Land and Agrarian Studies, holds a Masters of Philosophy in same field from the University of the Western Cape. He has co-authored book chapters in Land and Sustainable Development in Africa and The Global Land Grab: Beyond the Hype.