CANNON PETER KARANJA
6Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. 9How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
I find King Solomon’s teaching on the life of an ant and its food security very relevant to our country at this time we are facing the crisis of the drought. In proverbs 6: 6-11King Solomon paints the picture of a food secure animal in all seasons. Secure not because it lives in a land of plenty all through, but because the ant wisely knows how to detect seasons and plan its future.
The ant is able to feed itself because it acts strategically and stores food for itself. The tiny animal is in charge, the seasons don’t determine its food status. It has learnt to gather during summer and store it up for the winter. The ant works hard; it is small in size but its diligence is impressive.
Symbolically, King Solomon compares the wise small animal to a sluggard. A sluggard remains poor all their life not because they lack resources but because they failed to use their God given wisdom to exploit what they have.
King Solomon alludes to the fact that the human beings are poor because they are lazy; they love to sleep. That they don’t stretch their hands to work.
On the flip side, the ant has no brains, it acts only on instincts. It has no resources of its own; it gets what human beings have worked for. The human being on the other hand has both brain and instincts, yet the ant can teach the human being good lessons on food security.
Looking at our nation we are used to periodic spells of severe drought. Every time we run into a crisis we mount an international appeal and claw back funds from government ministries to provide relief food. The indictment on the nation is from the fact that occasionally, we are forewarned like in this case of 2011 by our own government funded Meteorological department.
The international engagement, the Kenyans for Kenya initiative and the urgent military intervention is only because the ant is more sensible and wise instinctive than the entire collective mind of the Kenya government.
In reality we are endowed with food and other resources during our rainy season. We have predictable rainfall, good soil and high agricultural research institutions that produce high yield seeds and with a huge amount of knowledge and information on how to produce enough food in most parts of Kenya.
Isn’t it a shame that as fellow Kenyans die we have lost about 8.7 million animals from the same hunger in North Eastern valued at over Sh64 billion. (This loss is four times what our government has now invested to rescue our endangered brothers and sisters).
These animals were healthy during the rainy season but we refused to take advantage of this by selling them and keeping the cash or by slaughtering them and storing the meat which would have been part of our food bank. This was besides being warned by our weatherman in time. It is sad to hear the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of livestock say that pastoralists rejected the government initiative to buy the animals earlier.
A few weeks ago there were reports that food was rotting in some wet parts of Central Kenya for lack of markets as people die of hunger in the North. It is disappointing to note that decades after independence we have failed to tap into the food surplus from the agriculture rich Aberdare highlands.
Indeed it is just a year ago that farmers in the same areas were pouring milk owing to a market glut. We are yet to see what became of a presidential promise of an initiative to dry the milk. That milk could have been of great use to the malnourished children in North Eastern at this time.
Earlier in the year we experienced some average rainfall in the country. Too sad to note that most of the waters went down into the ocean while now our comrades in the North struggle to get some for their use, for farming and for their animals.
Drawing from the lesson of the ant, our brothers and sisters are hungry because we failed to plan. We neglected the simple lesson of storing for the rainy day. We wasted our abundance and now we are borrowing and fundraising. Hunger is synonymous with laziness and foolishness.
Sadly though, next year we are likely to be at our knees again begging and fundraising unless we learn from the ant.
It is time we learnt to harness what we have during times of plenty and storing it up to eat in times of need. From rotting mangoes, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages and kales to the cows, goats and sheep we could package all these and store them. A decent government plan and strategy with an adequate budgetary support cab build stocks of everything we produce so that in time of need we have supplies.
The indictment on the lesson of the ant is on all of us. From the farmer on the ground who would benefit more by learning modern methods of conserving what they grow, to the community leader who from the pastoralist community who could organise his community to a producer organization and process the meat for sale and even on the government that should facilitate its people towards this.
The aid organisations too should consider committing part of their resources towards projects that will for example harvest water during the rainy seasons to be used for farming and feeding animals during the dry season. They should not fear that doing this will make them irrelevant. We have numerous areas where interventions are still needed for the transformation of our land and people. But we can only do this when our people are fed and not in danger of death.
Our policy makers who have slept on the job must wake p and lay the framework for the intervention of all Kenyans and our developments partners for the future.
6Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. 9How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man
(Cannon Karanja is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya).