East Africa: food forests
Agro-ecology enterprises are helping to cushion African farmers and smallholders against climate change, improve nutrition and generate income
Ruth Okalo in her food forest garden, which has avocado trees, passion fruit and Leucaena leucocephala, a tropical forage tree whose leaves she uses for fodder and firewood Photo: Justus Wanzala
Chirping birds welcome you to Bio Gardening Innovations (BIOGI) a local not-for-proﬁt organisation and demonstration centre in Vihiga county, western Kenya. The centre is a mass of fruit trees, other exotic and indigenous tree species and vegetables, tuber crops, a rabbit hutch, a ﬁshpond ﬁlled with collected rainwater, and a kitchen. Although measuring less than an acre, the centre resembles a natural forest teeming with abundance.
BIOGI’s goals are to address challenges of climate change, deforestation and food insecurity through innovative agro- ecological principles and sustainable management of natural resources, and the NPO works with more than 2,000 smallholder farmers and their groups in Vihiga and Kakamega counties. The two counties have one thing in common, a high population density. Vihiga has a population density of 1,047 people per square kilometre, while Kakamega has a density of 618 per square kilometre.
Population density has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation and biodiversity loss in the region, but farmers, in partnership with BIOGI, have set up community learning ecosites as places to incubate new ideas for how to create regenerative enterprises in support of livelihoods in a sustainable manner. These enterprises include setting up food forests or organic gardens, in addition to rearing small livestock to cushion farmers and smallholders against climate, improve nutrition and generate income.
Farmers are also taught innovative approaches to crop and animal husbandry. These include aspects of permaculture, seed banking, organic farming, pre- and post-harvest handling and bio-fertiliser making. Ferdinand Wafula, BIOGI’s Chief Executive Officer, explains that the food forests concept is a farming system that involves integrating trees into food gardens. Food forests, he says, mimic natural forests. “Soil degradation and high demand for wood fuel led to deforestation and poor harvests, which prompted farmers to collectively seek innovative remedies that ensure sustainable agriculture,” he explains.
Simon Amwoyo is among the local farmers affiliated to BIOGI. Amwoyo undertakes various activities on his one hectare farm, where he grows a variety of fruit trees such as mangoes and avocados, as well as Grevillea Robusta, a species used as a source of wood for fuel and timber. He also grows Calliandra and Sesbania trees, which provide fodder. “I have a tree forest and I also grow cassava, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bananas and indigenous vegetables,” Amwoyo says, adding that the skills offered by BIOGI have enabled him to establish a ﬁshpond, an apiary and keep livestock. He has also learnt better ways of using wood-ﬁred cooking stoves and to recycle farm waste for organic manure, all of which have enabled him to meet the daily needs of his household.
Likewise, Ruth Okalo, who is also affiliated to BIOGI, says she has been able to seamlessly incorporate her food forest and organic garden into rearing livestock. Okalo, who grows bananas, sweet potatoes and indigenous vegetables alongside fruits and Grevillea Robusta, also rears dairy cattle. “I am self-reliant and I supplement the income of my husband instead of depending on him as I used to do before becoming a member of BIOGI,” she says. Wafula says the practices espoused by BIOGI are turning around the lives of farmers because they mitigate against climate change and environmental degradation.
The forest cover provides protection for food and fodder crops, increasing the production of food and other farm goods that meet farmers’ needs in the short-, mid- and long-term, he says. Food forests also contribute to improving Kenya’s forest cover, given that the national average is less than 8%. The farmers, he adds, are also involved in regenerative enterprises such as converting waste into organic manure and fodder. The farmers working with BIOGI have also harnessed indigenous knowledge to ensure climate resilience, Wafula says. “As part of the local culture, the community had traditional seed banks to preserve the germplasms of indigenous crops.
They knew how to undertake seed selection and methods of preserving them until next planting season.” To that end, he told Africa in Fact, they have now helped to establish a farm seed bank to preserve the seeds of endangered, indigenous crops, especially vegetables. BIOGI also educates partner smallholders on ways of preparing the produce and thus encouraging their consumption. As part of the move to include regenerative enterprises in the value chain, so boosting the local economy, the farmers prepare and sell traditional dishes using indigenous crops. Participating farmers are also taught how to establish and manage organic gardens, Wafula says.
They also receive training in integrating small livestock with crop farming, which can have beneﬁts for nutrient recycling and renewable energy utilisation. Variants of BIOGI’s approach are appearing in other sub-Saharan countries. The approach is certainly applicable on a continent of some 51 million farms, of which 80% (41 million) are smaller than two hectares, according to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Richard Kimbowa, chairman of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), East Africa, says the concept is also practised in Uganda. The establishment of food forests in the East African country, he says, has resulted in a range of agroforestry systems, including the use of mangoes and avocado trees in home gardens. Food forests contribute to the maintenance of existing agro-pastoral systems involving livestock, such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, Kimbowa says. Food forests keep land under cover, thus mitigating degradation, deforestation and pollution from the overuse of agrochemicals.
They also provide ﬁrewood, which most farmers depend on for energy. Moreover, the trees contribute to improving air quality and and the development of microclimates. Unfortunately, food forests also face various challenges. “Food forests are threatened by the policies of governments that favour large-scale and commercial farming, resulting in displacements and land grabs with considerable socio- economic effects,” Kimbowa says. At the same time, rising population growth means that more farmers require extension services and education to help them adopt new technologies.
Chris Macoloo, Africa’s regional director for World Neighbors (WN), an international NGO that educates communities about solutions to challenges such as hunger and poverty, says many smallholder farmers may also view food forest practices as competition for other proﬁtable land uses such as cropping and livestock rearing. “Trees are seen as competing with crops for available and limited essential resources such as labour, water and nutrients. The farmers we work with also initially lack the skills and technical expertise needed for establishing and managing agroforestry systems.”
But he agrees that food forests enhance food security and biodiversity protection. “They create a suitable habitat for wildlife and insects, including pollinators,” he says. “They also enrich the soil with organic matter and support the control of pests and diseases, enhancing and promoting agro-ecology.” Partner farmers work on their own farms, and are therefore more motivated to plant and manage the trees than those who cultivate communal areas. Moreover, he says, research has shown that vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs are more productive when cultivated in a near-natural habitat model such as that provided by the food forests.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) runs a project, the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), which offers ﬁnancial support and technical assistance to strengthen forest and farm producer organisations, says Philip Kisoyan, a programme coordinator. He describes food forests as “multi-storey gardens” that include root crops, cover crops, vegetables and fruits. “Our goal is to enable farmers to adequately beneﬁt from tree products such as fuel wood, timber, fodder for livestock and fruits.”
The choice of tree species to plant depends on climatic and ecological factors as well as the farmer’s needs. “Some farmers opt for multipurpose trees for fruits, fodder, timber and fuel wood, while others go for early maturing species,” says Kisoyan. The FFF works with smallholder famers in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Africa, the programme operaties in Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia Ghana and Madagascar. It is also operating in Bolivia, Latin America and Vietnam in Asia, according to Kisoyan. “Smallholder farmers are a critical part of society, but without support they can’t fully fulﬁl their potential,” he told Africa in Fact.
They represent a huge number of our farmers. If organised and empowered with skills and capital, they could form a signiﬁcant segment of the private sector.” Supporting farmers to organise into groups and co-operatives, he adds, also empowers them to collectively seek markets, inputs and add value to their products. The food forest concept is crucial for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, he argues. “There are more trees on farms than in designated forests in Kenya. Around 40% of timber sold in Kenya is from farms.”
Like other food security specialists, Kisoyan points to the many beneﬁts offered by food forests. In his view, the key factor is that they improve biodiversity, which contributes to high crop productivity by offering a habitat for pollinators – bees and birds. Like the WN’s Chris Macoloo, though, he says that the concept and practice of food forests faces challenges. Incentives to cultivate a food forest can be adversely affected by government policy, or a lack of knowledge, or the availability of appropriate technology. Kenya’s position on trees is a case in point, he says.
“When you plant a tree it’s your personal decision, but should you require to cut and transport it, you’re compelled to obtain authorisation from authorities.” All the same, food forests are gaining popularity in Africa, says Ru Hartwell, director of Community Carbon Link, which runs a forestry project connecting Wales and Kenya. The organisation is currently working with a community in Bore, along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, to promote farm forestry. In Hartwell’s view, food forests should also be seen as contributing part of a solution to a larger problem – climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted that humanity will lose the battle against global warming if the tropics are not reforested, he says. “Reducing emissions in the developed world without stopping tropical deforestation won’t ﬁx the broken climate.” The poorest people in the world – who include sub-Saharan Africa’s large number of women farmers – now hold the key to ﬁghting climate change, says Hartwell. They are increasingly getting involved in reforesting, and growing trees for food, fodder, fuel and even medicinal purposes, he says. “No- one really appreciates it yet, but poor, marginalised women now hold the fate of the entire planet in their hands.”
Meanwhile, Stepha McMullin, a scientist at the Nairobi-based International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), also called the World Agroforestry Centre, says her organisation promotes the cultivation of various species, including indigenous and under-utilised African food trees and crops, such as baobab, moringa and sorindeia. “These are crops with under- exploited potential for food and nutrition security and they have been ignored by researchers,” she says. “They can provide fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils into the local food system.”
However, fruit consumption remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because seasonality poses a challenge. Moreover, the short windows of harvests, and gluts of certain species at particular times, lower market prices, McMullin says. “Fortunately, seasonality also provides opportunities, not just for income generation but, importantly, for food security and nutrition.” To take account of these issues, ICRAF has developed a “portfolio” approach to address the seasonal availability of foods in local food systems, based on studies of the mixes of trees and crops best suited to particular areas. Some 17 location-speciﬁc portfolios have been developed across East Africa in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somaliland, says McMullin.
Working with national partners and local farming communities, the centre promotes relevant portfolios to local farmers, training them on the beneﬁts of diversiﬁcation, tree planting and management, and the importance of using quality seed and seedlings. McMullin believes farmers can be incentivised to adopt food forests if they are involved in the research process. Researchers need to provide them with information on the diversity of food tree species that can be cultivated in their localities, and the opportunities for income that they offer. Crops derived from trees have an additional beneﬁt, she argues.
“The extensive roots of trees make them more drought tolerant than annual crops, so they can provide food in dry periods when other food sources are not available.” Meanwhile, Nicholas Syano, co- founder and chief executive officer of the Drylands Natural Resource Centre (DNRC), which promotes agro-ecology among farmers in eastern Kenya, agrees that food forests can play a role in climate resilience.
“This isn’t really a new concept, but rather part of indigenous knowledge which the continent had lost,” he says. Traditionally, homes would have forest gardens with food crops such as mangoes, guavas, avocadoes and cashew nuts, root crops such as sweet potatoes, as well as beans as a cover crop, vegetables, medicinal herbs, shrubs, climbers, and fruit trees, among others. BIOGI, it seems, is on the right path, back to the future.
Greendustrialisation: now or never
African economies looking for a sustainable industrialisation model find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward
Ruth Amoah (right) and her workers at small chocolate producer Moments Chocolate’s workplace remove husks from roasted cocoa beans in Accra, Ghana, 2019
Photo: Cristina Aldehuela / AFP
Lack of industrialisation is often pointed out as the key factor behind Africa’s underdevelopment. Among those supporting the idea are Mike Morris and Judith Fessehaie, who wrote in their 2014 paper, The Industrialisation Challenge for Africa: “Only a massive industrialisation effort will enable Africa to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development”. According to United Nations (UN) statistics from 2019, Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people or 16% of the world’s population, 85% of whom “are still poor if judged by the standards of upper-middle income countries”.
Yet, the continent accounts for less than 2% of international trade and global manufacturing. Based on the current demographic trend, the UN forecasts that Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion people by 2050 – a dramatic increment that will put further strain on already scarce jobs and insufficient public services and natural resources. Due to low levels of industrialisation, Africa is by far the continent that produces the least CO2 emissions. UN statistics for 2016 show that Africa emits just 4% of the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. According to an early 2020 Oxfam study, “The average Brit will emit more carbon in the ﬁrst two weeks than the citizens of seven African nations (Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso) emit in an entire year”.
Nonetheless, Africa pays the toll for pollution as much as any other part of the world, and available data suggest that the continent is affected by climate change more immediately than other regions. “For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramiﬁcations of the world’s warming by more than 1.5°C would be profound,” said the UN’s spokesperson for sustainability issues, Dan Shepard, when summing up the conclusions of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase,” wrote Shepard on the panel’s conclusions, which predicted a decrease in precipitation in Africa of up to 20% if the projected warming is not corrected. As the developed world pushes forward to move away from a model of industrial production based on burning fossil fuels that is proving unsustainable, African economies ﬁnd themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward. Stepping up efforts to boost production through energy sources that are being dropped elsewhere does not seem like a viable option for Africa.
On the one hand, it would be met with reticence from donors and partners much aware of the urgency of greening the economy. Besides, its success would come at a price for a continent whose rich natural environments remain largely unscathed compared to other parts of the world. In these circumstances, both governments and international institutions are, at least from a declarative point of view, decisively opting for what has been called “a green path to industrialisation”, what we will call greendustrialisation.
“The big opportunity for Africa in 2016, as a latecomer to industrialisation, is in adopting alternative economic pathways to industrialisation,” a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (2016) noted. Titled Greening Africa’ s Industrialization, the document argues that African countries have the potential to “beneﬁt from their current low-carbon position and leapfrog” a future, without a “high dependence on volatile fossil fuels” and avoiding the complex and costly transition processes required in more industrialised economies.
An example of greendustrialisation given by the report is the Hawassa Eco-Industrial Park in Ethiopia, some 275 km south of the capital. This textile manufacturing plant started operating in 2016 and is the flagship project of the government’s industrial parks programme aimed at creating jobs and boosting exports. The Hawassa park runs on renewable hydroelectric power and employs a Zero Liquid Discharge system (ZLD) that enables it to recycle 90% of the sewerage disposal waters. Its success supports the notion that building green infrastructure from scratch might be easier than greening an existing one.
The Hawassa Park has been built with abundant and diversiﬁed foreign investment, especially from Asia. Some 25,000, mostly female, Ethiopians currently work at the plant, which is expected to employ 60,000 people when running at its full capacity. Cheap labour and the good conditions offered to investors by the Addis Ababa government have drawn clothing giants such as Guess, H&M and Levi’s to commission some of the garments they sell to manufacturers working from this park. According to 2016 World Bank data, agriculture employs between 65 and 70% of Africa’s workforce and supports the livelihoods of 90% of the continent’s population.
Thus, the success of industrialising African economies lies to a great extent in the transformation of the sector. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer, but most of the volume extracted is processed (in the form of liquor, butter, cake or powder) abroad. The government has repeatedly vowed to spur its cocoa processing capacities in the coming years. At the same time, Ivory Coast aspires to boost the manufacturing in the country of cashews, cotton, rubber and coffee, whose production is mostly exported in raw form. Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International is one of the companies already processing cocoa and other commodities in Ivory Coast.
Its factories employ 5,000 people and are mentioned as an example of good environmental practices by the UN Economic Commission for Africa. A major challenge for both cocoa supply and manufacturing in Africa and overseas is the deforestation provoked by logging aimed at making space for planting more cocoa trees to farm. In 2017, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana launched, together with 35 global cocoa and chocolate companies, the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. Its main provision is “a commitment to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production”. One of the intended measures is investing “in sustainable agricultural intensiﬁcation in order to grow more cocoa on less land”.
Between 1988 and 2007, the website of the initiative says, 2.3 million hectares of rainforest was cleared for cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In a 2015 speech before the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the then Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, mentioned the development of manufacturing and the transformation of the agricultural sectors as two pivotal points to drive Africa’s industrialisation. Desalegn, who has been commended for championing the greendustrialisation agenda pioneered by his predecessor, Meles Zenawi, also alluded to the procurement of energy as “one of the binding constraints for industrialisation”.
He unequivocally propounded the development of “renewable energy”, which he considered to be “our comparative advantage in Africa”, as the only desirable way forward. In an example of integrated greendustrialisation, Ivory Coast is planning to build a 60 to 70 MW capacity biomass power- generation plant running on waste from cocoa pods. The project is supported by the US and will be up and running in 2023 if the process goes as planned. Ivory Coast aims to develop 424 MW of biomass power generation capacity by 2030, in an effort to increase and diversify its electricity generation sources as power demand has grown due to economic growth.
In December 2019, the Ivorian government and a French consortium led by Electricite de France (EDF) signed a concession contract for the construction of a biomass power plant of an installed capacity of 46 MW. It should be ready by 2023, when it will start generating electricity from oil palm waste. While countries like Malawi, South Africa and Rwanda have made remarkable progress in developing biofuels, wind and solar energy, Kenya is the leading actor in Africa when it comes to energy transition. Between 2010 and 2018 Kenya’s economy expanded at an annual average rate of 5.8%, according to World Bank data.
Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya’s peak demand for electricity almost doubled (from just over 1,000 MW in 2010 to exceed 1,900 last year), official data from the Nairobi government shows. Back in 2008, the Kenyan government launched its Kenya Vision 2030, a plan aimed at industrialising the economy to bring prosperity to citizens within a “clean and secure environment”. To sustain the projected economic expansion, the plan provided for an increase in the country’s power capacity based on the development of renewable energies, particularly hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. In December 2019, Kenya put a new 50 MW solar plant online.
It increased the share of renewable energy in its power mix to a remarkable 93% and took the country closer to the government’s target of being entirely green energy powered by 2020. In a 2019 policy research working paper for the World Bank, Catrina Godinho and Anton Eberhard cite the following facts to explain Kenya’s success. Since 1996, “policy and regulatory functions were separated from commercial activities; generation was unbundled from transmission and distribution; cost-reflective tariffs were introduced; and generation was liberalised.”
In a second phase of the reform that started in 2002 “independent regulation” was strengthened and the national generation company partially privatised to attract foreign investment. As a result of these policies, which continue, Kenya “has … become an investment destination for IPPs” (Independent Power Producers). This has allowed it to triple its generation power capacity since 1990, “with generation capacity expanding more rapidly than peak demand” and having achieved a power surplus (Godinho and Eberhard) – while almost entirely greening the company’s power sourcing.
Kenya ranked ﬁfth in the BloombergNEF’s 2019 Climatescope report, which evaluates the investment conditions in clean energy in 104 emerging countries. “The country is gradually increasing its share of non-large hydro renewables by adding solar, wind and geothermal,” the report read. “In 2018, Kenya recorded its highest ever clean energy investment with $1.4 billion,” it added. However, the eastern African nation’s vigour in exploiting Africa’s privileged natural resources to propel industrialisation remains unparalleled in a region with huge discrepancies from country to country, where economic growth is still propelled by extraction commodities.
Despite its desperate need to intensify generation and the commitment of its politicians to take the green way to industrialisation, Africa lags far behind all the other continents in renewable energy actual generation and capacity growth (IEA 2019). Half of Africa’s booming population still has no access to electricity, and power cuts affect 80% of the companies operating on the continent. “Despite progress in several countries (e.g. Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda), current and planned efforts to provide access to modern energy services barely outpace population growth,” the IEA notes in its 2019 World Energy Outlook. Data for 2019 of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that Africa’s renewable generation capacity of 46 GW accounted for 2% of global share.
Some 60% of the total share of electricity generated in sub- Saharan Africa comes from hydropower. Oil comes second with a share of 18%, followed by gas (16%). According to the IEA, Africa’s hopes to face the growing demand, brought about by demographic growth and projected economic development, rely on the development of solar energy, which has the potential to overtake hydropower as the main renewable generation source – coupled with the use of the abundant reserves of natural gas discovered in recent years in the continent.
“The big open question for Africa remains the speed at which solar PV will grow. To date, the continent with the richest solar resources in the world has installed only ﬁve gigawatts (GW) of solar PV, less than 1% of the global total,” the IEA concludes.
Kenya launched an ambitious plan dubbed Kazi Mtaani in early June that sought to shield thousands of jobless young people from the biting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Department of Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga said the Sh10 billion ($100 million) programme targeted 270,000 Kenyans, in a country with about 14 million unemployed youths, according to the 2019 census data. Each beneficiary of the project would earn a daily wage of Sh455 ($4.55) and would be engaged in community and infrastructure development projects.
Each beneficiary of the project would earn a daily wage of Sh455 ($4.55) and would be engaged in community and infrastructure development projects.
In the early stages of the pandemic, on 25 March, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he “recognise[d] the anxiety that th[e] pandemic ha[d] caused millions of Kenyan families … with the possibility of job losses and loss of income weighing heavily on their minds”. He announced a reduction of Value Added Tax to 14% from 16% and corporation tax from 30% to 25% and also declared 100% tax relief for individuals with a monthly income of less than Sh24,000 ($240).
Michael Okoth, 33, from Dandora slums in Nairobi, told Africa in Fact that he lost his job as a school bus driver when coronavirus struck, and the Sh2,275 ($22.75) payment from a Kazi Mtaani job, which he receives through his mobile phone weekly, had helped him to cover his family’s daily expenses. “Between April and June, my family and I really struggled to survive and we even [went] without food for a day or two,” says Okoth. Now, the father of two says, he can afford to pay rent, buy food for his family and cater for other basic needs.
But as the pandemic has raged across the globe, many other Kenyans who have endured months under various forms of social restriction have not benefited from the scheme. On 5 August, hundreds of youths from Uasin Gishu in Rift Valley demonstrated, claiming that money meant for their wages was being diverted to other activities by unnamed senior government officials.
The Sh2,275 ($22.75) payment from a Kazi Mtaani job, which he receives through his mobile phone weekly, had helped him to cover his family’s daily expenses.
Joyce Kipchirchir, 27, from Nyathiru on the outskirts of the town of Eldoret in the Rift Valley, who got a job under the Kazi Mtaani scheme, told Africa In Fact in a phone interview that she had been paid Sh1,365 for 11 days worked, rather than the Sh5,005 that she should have been paid. “We suspect someone is taking advantage of our misfortune,” she said.
On 23 July, youths employed under the Kazi Mtaani programme in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, protested over delayed and low payments. The region’s assistant county commissioner. Rosemary Mwangi, said the issue had been escalated to the relevant county administrators for action. A week later, on 30 July, another protest was held in Nyeri County over the same issue.
Responding to the queries on 5 August, Hinga said that all Kazi Mtaani employees were being paid a standard amount of Sh455 per day, and those who had received Sh1,365 ($13.65) and Sh910 ($9.10) had been paid for two or three days worked. The balance of what they were owed would be paid on the following day (6 August).
“We suspect someone is taking advantage of our misfortune,” she said.
The Kazi Mtaani programme has been charged with favouritism (in the recruitment of candidates). County commissioners, county secretaries and county directors of housing in charge of implementing the programme in their areas of authority have been accused of demanding bribes from those who want to be considered.
“I was not considered for the job because I could not afford to buy chai,” said Okore, 22, a disabled and jobless University of Nairobi graduate who lives in the Mathare slums in the capital (The phrase, “buy chai” is a common euphemism for bribing officials in Kenya). Okore, who said he was from a poor background and an orphan with no direct family to care for him, told Africa in Fact that friends of his had “bought chai” and were now Kazi Mtaani employees.
Given that government programmes may be failing to reach all of their intended beneficiaries, development partners and not-for-profit organisations have stepped in to augment the government’s efforts. On 2 July, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launched cash transfers and nutrition support for more than 250,000 people in informal settlements in Nairobi. The body’s country director and representative in Kenya, Annalisa Conte, said the cash distributions were aimed at supplementing the Kenyan government’s social protection programmes.
“I was not considered for the job because I could not afford to buy chai,” said Okore, 22, a disabled and jobless University of Nairobi graduate who lives in the Mathare slums in the capital.
Poor urban families usually lived hand-to-mouth, relied on informal day-to-day employment and had no food reserves after months of containment measures, including lockdowns in some areas. “They need all our help now,” she observed.
Meanwhile, Shikilia, a Kenya-based coalition of the private sector and NGOs, entrepreneurs, operators, designers and researchers is working with GiveDirectly, a US-based not-for profit, to help low-income Kenyans living in extreme poverty by making unconditional cash transfers to them via mobile phone. Some 100,000 potential recipients have been identified, according to Shikilia’s website, though it is unclear how many of them have received payments. Each recipient has received at least $30 a month for three months.
While these efforts appear to be having a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable Kenyans, critics say the coronavirus outbreak has brought with it a need to reflect deeply on sustainable, long-lasting plans to deal with other large-scale threats to life and welfare that might arise in the globalised world. “The coronavirus crisis has reminded us that we need to focus seriously on how we address the challenges facing the vulnerable in our society in terms of social protection,” Technical University of Kenya communications lecturer Julius Bosire told Africa in Fact.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought with it a need to reflect deeply on sustainable, long-lasting plans to deal with other large-scale threats to life and welfare that might arise in the globalised world.
The Kenyan government needed to support productive sectors of the economy, to create the conditions necessary to generate employment opportunities for the thousands of jobless youths, said Bosire. Among the measures he proposed for achieving this were extending tax holidays to businesses, reducing the cost of doing business by cutting energy costs, and incentivising multinational firms to set up operations in Kenya.
“Technically, an economically empowered person can be assumed to be socially protected,” he said. But in recent decades, Kenya has seen hundreds of thousands of young people, high school and college graduates, failing to find work. Other demographics have increasingly fallen by the wayside in terms of government support. “Hence, our focus should not just be on the youth – it should be wider and broader to cover even the ageing population,” Bosire said.
Deputy President William Ruto, in a tweet on 24 July, challenged youths not to depend on formal employment, but to come up with innovative ways to create employment for themselves during the coronavirus crisis. The government intended to “nurture, encourage and protect” micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses, he said, because they had the power to “boost the livelihoods of the vulnerable and provide an environment for the youths to unlock their potential”.
Deputy President William Ruto, in a tweet on 24 July, challenged youths not to depend on formal employment, but to come up with innovative ways to create employment for themselves during the coronavirus crisis.
But critics say the Kazi Mtaani programme was hurriedly conceived, to give the appearance of doing something for vulnerable youths, and without a clear roadmap. Under the plan, university graduates were being offered bush-clearing jobs that paid a small amount per day, when they might have been engaged in activities that made use of their skills, Dr Michael Okello, an economist and independent media commentator based in Nairobi, told Africa in Fact. “Were there ever any clear plans for this initiative?”
The government had mobilised, both internally and externally, “massive funds” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but the country’s medical care and support had not improved, Okello said. Moreover, in previous years, important sectors of the economy such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, among others, had not received support, which would have helped to generate jobs for young people, and these sectors were still receiving no support.
“These failures are all due to greed and corruption,” said Okello. “The government has a solid track record in corruption, rather than in serving the people. Where are the jobs that were promised in 2017, when about 40% of our youth are unemployed?”
“The government has a solid track record in corruption, rather than in serving the people.” – Dr Michael Okello.
Indeed, there have been persistent allegations of misuse and theft of Covid-19-related funds. On 29 July, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said “billions of shillings” had been allocated to addressing Covid-19, but Kenyans who had tested positive for the virus “still lacked access to proper medical care”.
On 26 June 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta, launching his campaign for a second term, pledged to create at least 1.3 million jobs a year. Youth employment was “at the heart of his administration,” he said. Yet according to 2019 census data published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, some 38.9% of young Kenyans were still jobless two years later.
Central Bank of Kenya Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge faulted the structure of Kenya’s economy for delivering economic growth without jobs. He said the country was focusing on huge infrastructural spending, which did not spread wealth among many Kenyans. Those without jobs, Njoroge argued, remained unemployed and those at work did not see hikes in their wages. These sorts of expenditures boost GDP numbers, he said, “but you cannot eat GDP”. What was needed was specific income. That was what people wanted: jobs and income.
These sorts of expenditures boost GDP numbers, he said, “but you cannot eat GDP”. What was needed was specific income.
President Kenyatta announced a post-election pact with opposition leaders on 9 March this year, widely publicised with a photograph of himself shaking hands with the leader of the main opposition, Raila Odinga. But with the opposition virtually non-existent, Kenyans have been left with no one to put pressure on the government to fulfil its pre-election promises, including youth job creation.
“One handshake killed the opposition,” says Wilson Rono, a human rights activist in the coastal city of Mombasa. “The media are policed by government, while civil society actors are routinely intimidated and arrested. There is no one to hold those in power accountable.”
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After months of coronavirus lockdown, President Uhuru Kenyatta on 7 July announced phased reopening in Kenya, paving the way for the resumption of international flights from 1 August. He also lifted restrictions on movement within the country amid mounting strain on the economy, which is chiefly driven by agriculture, while the tourism sector is also seriously battling.
In a broadcast address, the president also lifted a ban on movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera but lengthened the countrywide curfew between 9pm and 4am for a further 30 days. If the situation worsens, he cautioned, he would not hesitate to revert to lockdown.
If the situation worsens, he cautioned, he would not hesitate to revert to lockdown.
The move came amid observations that coronavirus cases were growing despite restrictions on movement. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s Prof Gichuhi Waititu attributes the growing number of confirmed cases to the increasing number of tests conducted. “In fact, Kenya should increase the number of tests across the country since the early detection of cases and proper contact tracing are crucial in the recovery of infected cases,” he notes in an opinion piece for The Elephant, a Kenyan online platform. According to a July article on statistics website Our World in Data, “[c]ountries with a very high positive rate are unlikely to be testing widely enough to find all cases.”
A day after restrictions were lifted, Deputy President William Ruto in a tweet asked Kenyans to adhere to the laid down guidelines “to shield ourselves and prevent the spread of the deadly disease”. Ruto added that the reopening of the economy was a one-time move — perhaps indicating they would not revert to lockdown — that placed the responsibility of confronting the coronavirus epidemic on individuals.
His call for individual responsibility came after a consultation session with religious leaders, who he saluted for their actions and their influence on people’s attitudes and behaviours in addressing the pandemic and taming its spread. But by passing the burden of the battle against coronavirus onto individuals, Kenya appeared to have delegated its duty to them, observed political analyst David Makali. He argued in a tweet on 7 July that the government should have intensified enforcement of the protocols aimed at containing the virus’s spread “ruthlessly, before we run into a real crisis”.
By passing the burden of the battle against coronavirus onto individuals, Kenya appeared to have delegated its duty to them.
It is worth noting that since March, when the first case of the disease was confirmed, the authorities have put in place various measures to curtail its spread. These include the mandatory wearing of face masks in public and the maintenance of at least one metre’s distance from other people. However, the government is yet to offer clear guidance on which face masks to wear. (Many face coverings for sale are made locally and some have been deemed to be fake). Worse, many Kenyans do not know how to put on the face masks.
On 14 April, Kenya introduced fines and/or a jail term for people breaching its Covid-19 measures. Businesses were instructed to make sanitary services available at their entrances, with those found to be flouting the regulation facing a possible six-month jail time or a Ksh20,000 ($200) fine. Ironically, the directives were made at a time when Kenya faced a serious shortage of masks, prompting Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to ask Kenyans to use scarfs to cover their faces.
After slightly more than three months since wearing face masks was made compulsory, it would appear that most Kenyans are not adhering to the guidelines. Maximillah Njoroge, a grocery dealer at the populous Wangige market on the outskirts of Nairobi, says she does not have enough money to purchase protective gear.
Many Kenyans do not know how to put on the face masks.
“Whatever income I earn from my small business, I [use to] buy food and pay rent for my family,” says the mother of five. She re-uses the single surgical mask she does have, to save on the “unnecessary expenditure” of buying a new one.
Kenyans feel the government has not yet done enough, despite receiving colossal amounts of support from the international community to confront Covid-19. On 2 April, the World Bank Group approved $50 million in immediate funding to support Kenya’s response to the global pandemic. The World Bank Country Director for Kenya, Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, said the new fast-track facility would assist Kenya in its efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by Covid-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness, according to a World Bank media release of 2 April.
On 28 April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention donated $6.6 million “to be used for surveillance, laboratory supplies and strengthening, and surge staffing costs”. On 6 May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved an amount of $739 million to be drawn from the Rapid Credit Facility to help to meet Kenya’s urgent balance of payments deficit, stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to IMF Deputy Managing Director Tao Zhang.
Kenyans feel the government has not yet done enough, despite receiving colossal amounts of support from the international community to confront Covid-19.
On 20 May, the World Bank approved another $1 billion for “budget support” aimed at addressing the “financing gap” in the country’s efforts to contain the virus, and to support Kenya’s economy. On 22 May the UN Environment Programme, through its Africa office, donated personal protection equipment worth $300, 000 and on 29 June the European Union, through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, donated Ksh270 Million ($2.7 million) to the World Health Organisation Kenya, which it said “will be used by the WHO to support the government of Kenya’s efforts to control the spread of the pandemic”.
In April, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said it was investigating two attempts, one of which was foiled, to steal Covid-19 medical equipment donated by Alibaba founder Jack Ma and the Chinese government. According to Kagwe, the successful theft may have been a product of a collusion between Ministry of Health officials and local and Chinese businessmen.
Kenyans are wondering if they have been left to face the threat of the virus on their own as senior government officials and politicians cash in on the outbreak, says Mohamed Mohammud, an independent Nairobi-based activist. “Where are the masks that we were promised? Where are the sanitisers? It is time that power was held to account.”
Kenyans are wondering if they have been left to face the threat of the virus on their own as senior government officials and politicians cash in on the outbreak.
Kenyans also take issue with the abnormally high prices of masks and alcohol-based hand sanitisers available on the market with businesses making a killing from the crisis. “We do not even know which mask is genuine and which is fake. There has been no awareness-raising at all, not even on how we are supposed to wear the masks,” says Mwangi Kimani, a mobile phone trader in Nyeri in central Kenya.
Members of the police are reportedly harassing people and extorting bribes as they purport to enforce official Covid-19 guidelines. On 25 June, chaos erupted in Nandi in the Rift Valley after a policeman allegedly killed a cobbler who he accused of not wearing a mask. And on 5 July, a police station in Kisii County was set ablaze after a police officer shot dead a hawker for allegedly selling fake masks.
On 10 July, in what appears to have been a retaliation for such heavy-handed actions, a mob in Mombasa attacked and seriously injured a policeman after he tried to arrest a middle-aged man for not wearing a mask. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority “strongly” condemned the attack, noting that such “lawless actions are likely to foster anarchy and break established order in society”.
“There has been no awareness-raising at all, not even on how we are supposed to wear the masks”.
Meanwhile, as the burden of combating the virus has been placed on individuals, county governments continue to grapple with budgetary constraints due to erratic and insufficient allocations from the national government. Health care is a fully devolved function in Kenya, but county governors claim their allocations are routinely informed by the inclinations of political parties.
“These biased allocations are harming our operations and services to the people in the middle of coronavirus challenges,” a county governor told Africa in Fact in confidence. Development partners and the international community would need to work directly with counties on health issues if their resources and donations were to be impactful, he said.
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In 2019, no less than 38.57% of young Kenyans (or 5,341,182 of 13,777,600) were out of work, according to census data. Article 260 of Kenya’s Constitution defines a youth as a person aged between 18 and 34. Even those with jobs were struggling to make ends meet because most jobs were lowly paid. As the government saw it, the annual number of formal employment opportunities available could not match the rate of population growth.
In the first quarter of this year, some 735,711 youths were laid off, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ Quarterly Labour Force for the period. But aside from encouraging jobless young Kenyans to engage in self-employment, the government did little to inspire people to create their own jobs.
In the first quarter of this year, some 735,711 youths were laid off.
All this was before the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kenya. The gloomy picture was darkened by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s warning in early May that more than half a million jobs might be lost in six months should the rate of coronavirus infections go up. As at 28 June, Kenya had recorded 6,070 cases of the deadly disease, with 1,971 and 143 recoveries and deaths, respectively. This represents a steep growth of 313% over the past month when the country had 1,471 cases.
However, the reliability of the figures have been put to the test, with the police making arrests over ‘fake’ coronavirus testing kits. While the government had said at least 35,000 samples would be worked on in 24 hours following a new innovation at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in April, the average testing capacity in the country still stands at 5,000 a day, according to the Chief Administrative Secretary for Health, Dr Rashid Aman.
The gloomy picture was darkened by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s warning in early May that more than half a million jobs might be lost in six months should the rate of coronavirus infections go up.
The government is struggling to stabilise the country’s wobbling economy as it is. In September 2019, the World Bank forecast a GDP growth rise of 5.9% in 2020, underpinned by private consumption, but revised it downwards to 1.5% in its Kenya Economic Update report in April, pegging the review on uncertainty and decreased economic activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Evaluating the likely impact of the novel coronavirus on Kenya, the Bretton Woods Institution said in the report that GDP might “contract to 1% in the worst-case scenario”. The virus pandemic has already hit tourism, agricultural exports and remittances.
In March, President Kenyatta announced a raft of interventions aimed at easing the financial burden on businesses and entrepreneurs in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. To protect jobs and provide certainty to employers, the government would offer 100% tax relief for people earning a gross monthly income of up to Ksh24,000 and a reduction of income tax paid by those in higher tax brackets from a maximum of 30% down to 25%.
Further, turnover tax rates for micro, small and medium enterprises were reduced from 3% to 1%, and the listing of individuals and micro-, small- or medium-sized entities by the Credit Reference Bureau was temporarily suspended with effect from 1 April, 2020. Moreover, Value Added Tax (VAT) was reduced from 16% to 14%, also effective from 1 April, and the Kenya Revenue Authority expedited the payment of verified VAT refund claims amounting to Ksh10 billion “within three weeks” to improve cash flows for businesses.
However, these ambitious measures have hardly had any impact on jobs protection and creation. As at 30 May, according to the Ministry of Health, at least 300,000 people had lost their jobs since 13 March, when Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case. It is unclear how many businesses have closed shop so far as a result of the coronavirus. However, it is clear that businesses have drastically scaled down their operations as employees get axed, while others have been asked to review their contracts from fixed terms to a pay-as-you-work model.
As at 30 May, according to the Ministry of Health, at least 300,000 people had lost their jobs since 13 March, when Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case.
Solomon Karanja, a long-distance bus driver operating between Nairobi and Bungoma in western Kenya, says he has been forced to engage in selling roasted and boiled maize at his home in the Mathare slums after the government imposed a ban on travel in and out of Nairobi in April. The father of four says it has been “hell for my family as we cope with one-meal-a day” due to reduced income.
The situation has not been any better for Rashid Omar, a dealer in mobile phones, who says the crisis has forced him to shut down his shop, rendering six of his employees jobless. “I now run the business on my own online to manage the overhead costs in the age of diminished returns,” he said.
The father of four says it has been “hell for my family as we cope with one-meal-a day” due to reduced income.
The biting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not spared the media. Journalists are being laid off and others forced to take pay cuts of between 25% and 50%. So harsh has been the situation that on 28 June, the Kenya Editors Guild said some media companies were exploiting the pandemic to enforce layoffs and salary cuts. The editors claimed that at least 300 journalists had lost their jobs in the past nine months, and the pandemic was “likely to exacerbate an already dire situation”.
On 29 June, Charles Kanyi, the member of parliament for Starehe constituency in Nairobi, claimed the police had supervised the overnight demolition of hundreds of kiosks in Gikomba, a downtown second-hand clothes market, arguably the largest in East Africa, that employs thousands of people, according to the Nairobi Governor, Mike Mbuvi. Kanyi argued that ongoing fires at the open-air market were a scheme to displace the original stall owners. At the very least, the move contradicted the government’s claimed commitment to shield small- and medium-sized businesses from the impact of the pandemic. On June 29, the legislator was arrested over claims of “incitement”.
The move contradicted the government’s claimed commitment to shield small- and medium-sized businesses from the impact of the pandemic.
The situation has not been made any better by delayed payments, and in some cases non-payment, for services and goods supplied to county and national governments. The officials of many of these institutions are in any case notorious for demanding kickbacks to honour their work obligations. According to the National Treasury, the government had uncleared debt to local businesses of Ksh368.9 billion (about $3.46 billion) as at 31 March this year.
With the President Kenyatta’s lifting of the lockdown on 6 July, commentators say the country’s leadership seems to have resigned itself to being torn between continued containment with little positive impact and the reopening of the country to stir economic activities. Blogger Robert Alai claimed the lifting of the lockdown would pave the way for a rise in infections, while veteran journalist David Makali, in a tweet, termed the president’s pronouncement as a signal to the “age of personal responsibility”.
Blogger Robert Alai claimed the lifting of the lockdown would pave the way for a rise in infections.
There have been widespread claims that the government was doing nothing material enough to contain the virus. Some politicians have called on Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to scale down his daily media briefings, which focus on numbers that add little value to the battle in containing the pandemic.
Instead, argues Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, the cabinet secretary should work towards the mass testing of people for fast identification of cases, swift treatment for those people who test positive, and immediate isolation to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But the government seems to be struggling to do this.
As things stand, Kenya appears to be on a me-too path, adopting measures that other countries, particularly the UK, have adopted, in order to seem to be confronting the outbreak. “There is no serious undertaking in battling coronavirus,” says Michael Simiyu, a public policy analyst based in Kisumu. “What have we achieved since the lockdown, apart from rising cases of the disease?”
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