Sunday 22nd April.
Been a while since I blogged. Done lots of stuff since then.
1. Visit to Nakuru National Park
2. Conference in Mozambique
3. Camping with Samburu tribes people over Easter
4. Rant about how European attitude to GM is damaging Africa
1. Nakuru National Park
Yup, so back in March I went to Nakuru national park – about 2-3 hours north of Nairobi. Some buddies (including my friend Borris from FAO-Rome… used to do the lake swim with me) and I hired a vehicle and drove along the rift valley up to the park one Friday afternoon. As we checked at the park gate, I met Sandra a teacher at the German school I’d had coffee with several weeks ago (a friend of another Rome buddy from the lake, Sebastian). So we decided to check into the same youth hostel/banda/ hut things and hang out together. This should be surprising, but… well the Nairobi crowd really is small – and there’s a good chance to bump into people all over the place.
Got up early to be greeted by a beautiful sunrise behind our hut with a heard of Buffalo. Beautiful.
The centre-piece of the park is Lake Nakuru, surrounded by some gentle hills and the special thing about the lake is that it is packed with Pink Flamingos - squillions of them. We went down to the lake side and the mass of pink birds was mind-boggling… Borris commented that the sound of all their feet walking around the lake, in and out of the water, was like a waterfall.. and yes. He was right.
Also met about 15 Rhinos (both white and black). The white ones are bigger and lighter in colour but actually get their name from the fact that they have a WIDE mouth.. and then the word was mistranslated somewhere to become white. Anyhoo, the wide mouthed white rhinos are grazers, eating vegetation off the ground (grass) – they are also social creatures that hang out together a lot. The black rhinos, which are smaller and more solitary, have a pointy mouth to help them browse for food from the trees.
The usual lions and monkeys were also seen, but the coolest thing was my first leopard – a baby, curled up on a tree. Auaaaahhhh.
The Saturday night, Borris and I wanted to take a slash around 2am… and opening the hut door to cross the site to the toilets/bushes, we were greeted by three great big Buffalos, the closest within 5m of us. I think I mentioned before that Buffalos are the 2nd most dangerous animal in Africa… killing and maiming many each year. Yieks!
Sunday morning we breakfasted outside with Zebras (including a baby) munching grass within a few metres of us.
I feel so spoiled here.
2. Conference in Mozambique
Yes, at the end of March, I went to Maputo for an incredible week. The conference brought together all the people funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in Africa. Over 400 of the best crop scientists, breeders and seed distributors on the continent, all doing amazing work. I am not funded by Rockefeller (an American charity run by an oil rich family) but when I heard about the meeting I demanded an invite. It was inspiring to meet these guys who have been nurtured by the Foundation over the years and trained to be top-class people and are really working, using plant science to improve crops… make them disease resistant, drought resistant, high in vitamins, low in toxins, insect resistant, striga resistant. Then at the same conference were breeders who could transfer the improved traits into locally adapted varieties. This is normally the furthest a scientist would think about a problem.. but having worked with the UN in Africa I now realise that its only the start of the problem. We have a lot of good crop varieties which aren’t being used by farmers… either because farmers don’t know about it… or because they know about it but can’t access the seed. There have been enormous problems making enough good seed for farmers to plant… and then getting the seed to the farmers.
You see almost 80% of Africans are small holder famers with about a hectare of land each. There are therefore, almost by definition the rural poor of Africa and any pro-poor policy or new variety should really target these people. They tend to live a long way from cities along very very bad roads. It used to be the job of governments to get seed/education to farmers, but the economic policies of the west, which led to reduction/removal of agricultural subsidies mean there isn’t enough money to do this effectively. It is in the domain of the private sector… but if there are no (good) roads to reach the small holder farmers, it is difficult to transport the seed. Even if there was a means to transport the seed, it becomes difficult to sell to the farmers who may not understand why its better, may be nervous about taking a risk on something new and don’t have access to any credit and rarely have spare cash. The same is true for fertilisers.
The issues of Seed Production and Distribution is big. Possibly almost as big as the issue of how the farmer will get their produce back to the market to sell once she/he’s grown it.
And the Rockefeller initiatives have made enourmous progress in this area reaching millions of small holder farmers. Some people would claim the issue shouldn’t be that big. If Coca-cola can get its product (which helps nobody) to the back of beyond and generate demand (which it can) then there is no excuse for the seed industry.
Rockefeller is using the small-scale private sector to help with its seed. It’s sad but true. The individuals working in the public sector have little interest in success… and if small shop owners can get