BY REV CANON PETER KARANJA
We live in a wonderful land. One endowed with diverse resources yet one wonders why our country has very high levels of poverty.
From the fertile areas of western, rift valley and aberdares regions to the pastoralist communities in the North and even the mineral rich areas in Ukambani and Western Kenya. We have numerous resources such as sand, limestone, building stones, soda ash and precious stones.
It is sad that even with all these our people perennially face hunger while a majority live in very poor conditions. It is bad enough to be poor but when the poor are hungry it is dehumanizing!
It is a shame that we are currently feeding our pastoralist communities while in just less than a year ago they were owners of millions of livestock, which have now died from drought.
It is baffling that in Ukambani where we have richest deposits of limestone and sand and coal people there constantly survive on relief food. The problem in these areas is not their lack of resources but the laxity of both the people there and our government to maximise the resources.
It does not take rocket science to know that if these resources had been harnessed and their values realised people there would have more than they need for food.
Stewardship and entrepreneurship holds the key to food security and eradication of poverty in our country.
From where I sit, our problem is not the lack of resources but the failure to exploit and maximise on what we have. It surprises me how a farmer in Kiambu can make a decent living from just a quarter of an acre through zero grazing dairy farming whereas those endowed with large tracts of land in other areas cannot match the return from quarter an acre of land.
For me, this calls for up scaling of civic competence and economic empowerment across the land. We must find a way of transferring useful information and knowledge to those who need to apply it to some economic and social benefit.
And by far this must be viewed as the key task of community, political and religious leaders who must actively create an intersection between the knowledge industry and the ordinary Kenyans.
In this era we should not be keeping cows that give just a cup of milk after a daylong tending, as I have seen in some areas in this country. This is not even enough to feed a family. The farmer keeping a dairy cow should aspire to rear a cow that will give enough milk for his family and spare more for selling to enable him/her afford other basic necessities.
Jesus taught this subject of entrepreneurship using the parable of the talents in Mathew 25. In this passage there are three servants and a master. The Master allocated a measure of resources to each. To one he gave five talents, another two and the third one. The one who got five made five more, the one with two made an equivalent but the one who got one made nothing. He went and buried it in the soil and produced it when the master came back.
It is a high time that Kenyans adopted the spirit and diligence of the first and second servants who diligently multiplied their talents. It is time to engage our minds and identify what we can do with the resource we have to produce more to feed ourselves and sell to our neighbors. It is time to make our hands dirty.
It is time we abandoned the spirit of laziness and helplessness exhibited by the last servant who hid his resource.
The elite in this country are not to be excused. They may actually be the people sitting on good arable land for prestigious and speculative purposes. They could spur both economic empowerment and entrepreneurship by either engaging and investing in modern production or releasing their land assets to those who could exploit them. To engage production in value addition and marketing will require their capital as well as sophistication.
How about professionals from North Eastern coming together to help establish a meat processing plant there where the pastoralists can sell their animals at a good price and make a living?
I wonder why none of the politicians in Northern Kenya has used part of the Constituency Development Fund to help establish a meat processing plant.
A good example of such a community initiative is the Githunguri dairy plant that is processing Fresha milk. The dairy farmers there now earn some decent living.
Our people are exploited by selfish middlemen who buy their products at throw away prices only to make a kill out of it later. It is time we established producer organizations such as the Githunguri example and ensured that they get maximum yields for what they produce.
This calls for concerted efforts. The peasant farmer, miner, pastoralist, community leaders, politicians, the elite and the State need to stand up and do something.
What our country lacks is the spirit of stewardship and entrepreneurship. We plough land and tender our animals as a matter of routine and pride. Those with minerals such as sand and precious rocks sell them for mere subsistence income to survive instead of applying an entrepreneur mind to maximize returns.
Can our leaders and community elites in whom the society has so heavily rise to be counted and engage pragmatically in poverty alleviation and stop crying for the government to do things that are the purview of the enterprising citizens?
(Canon Karanja is the General Secretary, the National Council of Churches of Kenya)