Drought is breeding new pests, scientists warn

By David Njagi



Farmers should brace for tougher times ahead following a surge of new generation pests, scientists have warned.
Destructive pests like the white fly, thrips and spider mites are evolving into new bugs for every slight increase in temperatures, according to the Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture (AIRCA).
But there is no solution is sight, argued AIRCA chairman, Dr. Dyno Keatinge, during the Global Action Plan for Agriculture Diversification in Nairobi.
“This is something the government, the Ministry of Agriculture. Livestock and fisheries, and research firms need to be concerned about,” said Dr. Keatinge.
For instance, he says, as the temperature rises, the white fly is able to evolve into two or three generations each year.
According to him, Kenyan farmers should diversify into other crops to cushion them from the ever increasing problem of pests and diseases.
Research institutions should also share and transfer new technologies to subsistence farmers, he added.
“Farmers need to have information on how to deal with pests and disease,” Dr. Keatinge. “But the bitter truth is that meteorological data in Africa as a whole is of very poor quality.”
However, Dr. James Nyoro, the government advisor on agriculture, says Kenya is well positioned to deal with emerging pests because there is a lot of research being done of water tolerant crop varieties.
According to him, farmers should be encouraged to practice climate smart agriculture by feeding them with alerts on new pests.
This, he says, will enable researchers to develop new pesticides, but more importantly, develop predators that can feed on new infestations.
“One of the ways of dealing with adverse climate change effects is technology development,” argues Dr. Nyoro. “We need to put our money where our mouth is in terms of generating research and development.”
Scientists say Africa experiences a rise in temperatures of about two to 2.5 degrees centigrade every year. But this varies with different locations.

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Love children with mental disabilities

By David Njagi

mental-illnessParents who react negatively to children with psychosocial disorders may discourage them from seeking treatment.

Case studies shared during a Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya (USP Kenya) media workshop reveal that children who are shown love by their families are more likely to adhere to treatment than those who are shunned.

In cases where parents are hostile to psychosocial disorders in the family, the children are even likely to become suicidal.

“I have tried to commit suicide twice because my family could not understand my bipolar condition,” said Tabitha. “They even took me to a police station to force me to take medicine.”

USP Kenya officials say such conflict can be solved by providing mental health services within the communities instead of restricting them to mental health institutions.

According to Michael Njenga, an official with the organization, treating psychosocial disorders is not only about medication, but it also requires family support and care.

“Family support is very important in mental health treatment because when someone is going through a traumatic experience one needs to go through counseling,” says Njenga.

Human rights activists accuse the society of stigmatizing people living with mental disability. This could explain why the hostility is extended to the family level.

“Tracking people living with mental disabilities for treatment becomes very difficult in Kenya because they are stigmatized by both the society and the family,” says Elizabeth Kamundia, a human rights activist. “This is why most of them are locked away from the public by the family.”

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Tusk power: No end in sight

By David Njagi

Ivory burn NairobiIt could be a game changer, but Nairobi’s recent ivory burn will need more than stoking to save Kenya’s decade long struggle with the poaching fix.

The event, held at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) at the end of April, was cheered by world leaders. But even with such a show of solidarity, Africa’s own leaders are not convinced that burning trophy will stump out wildlife crime.

Barely had the smoke cleared from the Nairobi skyline, Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, dismissed the burn as a pale spin.

The fiery politician figures President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government can do better by training security personnel on anti poaching skills. But his imagination blurs when fielding the question of permanently wiping out wildlife crime.

Some countries like South Africa and Namibia would rather hoard their ivory stocks for a future legal sale. Botswana insists on trading its ivory as artwork, educational tools, or museum displays.

Kenya is upset with Tanzania, for what it alleges is the neigbouring country’s refusal to tighten its laws on wildlife crime, making it a safe haven for poachers fleeing Kenya’s widening crackdown.

Uganda appears drained of ideas on how it can corner Joseph Kony, who is obsessed with kidnapping young boys and recruiting them into poaching to finance his militia, the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA).

Yet the world agrees that the elephant and the rhino – two of the most targeted marks for their ivory and horn respectively – are an endangered species.

The U.S State Department records estimate that out of five elephants, one was killed for its tusks during the last decade, leaving the world with around 400,000 of the attraction. Of the estimated 25,600 black and white rhinos, 1,338 were killed for their horn last year.

But the cloud should not obscure the silver lining. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is certain Kenya is making headways in taming the poaching menace.

A Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that the country enforced in 2013 sentences offenders to a life imprisonment for a six kilogrammes of ivory charge, or a fine of 63 million Kenya shillings (about US$ 630,000).

In May last year, a genetic and forensic laboratory that was launched at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, now analyses DNA samples from recovered trophy, enabling investigators to identify the poached animal species.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Kenya and the U.S. in January this year, has added an international spark to the list of strategies the East African country is developing to fight wildlife crime.

“The MOU does not specifically deal with criminal prosecutions but deals more with technical expertise and the sharing of information,” said United State Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who graced the event.

Going by IFAW’s analysis on Kenya’s advances to fight poaching, the outlook appears promising. But the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) is sure there is a missing layer – scrutiny on financial crime.

Crippling the ivory and rhino horns end markets in Asia and the U.S. would deal a heavy blow to poaching. But a thriving arms market and illicit financial flows will keep wildlife crime bouncing back, argues Henri FOURNEL, coordinator project WISDOM at INTERPOL. http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Environmental-crime/Projects/Project-Wisdom.

Serving at the organization has enabled him spot a pattern – that 99.99 per cent of criminals are active for money. They can be fixed by disrupting illegal money flows, he figures.

“These are crimes linked to poaching,” he argues. “We can also provide assistance and training to Africa in the field of financial crime to disrupt the poaching networks.”

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Nairobi to host first data portal to track Africa’s SDGs footprint

By David Njagi

A teen practices computer skills in Masalani, Northern Kenya.

A teen practices computer skills in Masalani, Northern Kenya.

Kenya is set to host the first continental data portal on agriculture water, environment, disaster risk reduction and gender equality.
The Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) first tested the African Data Observatory (ADO) in December last year ahead of its launch in 2016.
ADO is expected to track progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among Africa Union (AU) member countries.
“The portal will be managed from Nairobi,” explains Muchiri Nyaga, the executive director LDRI. “Its focus will be to track achievement of development goals among African Union member states.”
For it to be operational, the 10 year research product will run on a budget of about half a million dollars annually in the next four years, a kitty that LDRI is funding.
Officials say the purpose of the portal is to identify specific needs and support in regard to collection and dissemination of data, to enable countries understand where they need to invest their resources.
“ADO will enable the setting of budgets that national statistics offices need, skills, and infrastructure to collect data faster and cheaply and feed it to the public sector,” explains Nyaga.
In the past few years, governments have been aligning their growth agenda to energy efficiency, food security and water sufficiency in a way that reduces pressure on the environment.
Few however have posted updated data on their websites, a setback that denies the public access to useful information, argues Eric Chinje, the chief executive officer, Africa Media Initiative (AMI).
In Kenya, the government’s open data website has raised public confidence due to its wide feed on many sectors, but it still lacks updated data.
Other reliable sources of information include the World Bank and Africa Development Bank (AfDB) websites.
“The public need information on agriculture and energy most,” argues Chinje. “This is because agriculture feeds the nation while energy feeds the economy.”
According to a recent report by Development Initiatives (DI), the lack of data among African governments means that ending poverty over the next 15 years will be a much difficult task than halving it has been.
The Investments to End Poverty report 2015 (ITEP II), which was launched at a side event during September’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, argues that low spending on data management is the reason sub Saharan Africa is struggling with insecurity and environmental upsets.
“The data that Africa currently has on poverty and resources is not fit to get poverty to zero, argues the report. “National institutions that are the main drivers of poverty eradication have fewer resources especially in data collection and management.”
Meanwhile, LDRI says the public will be able to access the ADO data portal free of charge.
“If the public do not have data they cannot plan for themselves. And if they cannot plan for themselves then everything they do is spend money through guesswork. Africa cannot afford to play guesswork with the public’s financial resources,” argues Nyaga.

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Kenya hopeful for slice of the tourism of the skies

By David Njagi



Kenya may have missed an opportunity to pitch the country’s might in the emerging astral tourism niche during President Barrack Obama’s visit.
Expectations were high that leaders at the frontline of the Nairobi Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) would showcase Kenya as a destination for astral tourism, as traditional spots continue to lose their lure due to among others, insecurity.
The Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies at the University of Nairobi (UON) defines astral tourism as a concept that seeks to understand the relationship between man and the universe through sky observation.
“Kenya is one of the countries that is geographically located and has certain observations that can assist humanity to understand other parts of the universe and where we came from,” argues Dr. Kibe Kiragu of UON.
According to Dr. Kiragu such information is disseminated by observing how celestial bodies like the stars, the moon and the sun behave in terms of Kenya’s position in the universe. It is a niche that can bring the country millions of dollars through astral tourism flow, he argues.
In 2013, the world converged in Turkana County to observe the first full solar eclipse to be witnessed only in Kenya, a spectacle that Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) acknowledges fetched the country bountiful in revenue.
In November last year, a Kenyan delegation was in Paris for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) event, which made the first pitch about the country’s potential in archeo astronomical sites and observatories.
But it was the hope that the government would take advantage of President Obama’s visit to make a case about partnering with the United States of America (USA), to develop Kenya’s space exploration programme that kept astral tourism proponents on edge.
Proponents were hoping that State House would revisit the 1973 affair where US President Richard Nixon gifted Kenya with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goodwill Rock, a sample that was collected from the moon.
A letter dated March 21, 1973, signed by President Nixon, and which accompanied the moon rock, confirms that the samples were transferred to foreign Heads of State, including Kenya.
“If people of many nations can act together to achieve the dreams of humanity in space, then surely we can act together to accomplish humanity’s dream of peace here on earth. It was in this spirit that the United States of America went to the moon, and it is in this spirit that we look forward to sharing what we have done and what we have learned with all mankind,” reads the letter.
It further reads: “Once gifted, each of the goodwill moon rock samples became the property of the recipient entity and therefore was no longer subject to being tracked by NASA. As property of the nation or state, the goodwill rocks are now subject to the laws of public gifts as set by that country.”
However, Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro, argues that Kenya has a long way to go before finding a niche in astral tourism, but that should not stop the country from bouncing ideas.
“The relationship between Kenya and the US can only be strong because America represents the spirit of liberty, freedom and democracy,” says Sen. Ethuro. “We look forward to having great opportunities with America.”
In South America, archeo astronomical sites in Peru, Mexico and Nicaragua earn the countries an enviable revenue stream through astral tourism.
Meanwhile, the Kenya National Space Secretariat, based at the Department of Defense (DOD) headquarters, declined to comment about the county’s position in space exploration, arguing that details shared with the public have to go through thorough scrutiny.

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African grannies demand their rights at AU summit

By David Njagi

African grannies are counting on the ongoing African Union (AU) summit to have their demands met through a new human rights protocol.
The Heads of States meeting that takes place until January 31st in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is expected to consider the adoption of a new human rights protocol on the rights of older people in Africa.
What makes this protocol important is that it contains a specific article guaranteeing older women rights to freedom from violence, as well as rights to land, property and inheritance, according to HelpAge International.
“Progress on gender equality in Africa can only be made if human rights are protected at every stage of every woman’s life,” argues Dr. Prafula Mishra, Regional Director at HelpAge International. “The discrimination that older women are subjected to, based on their older age and their gender, must be recognized and addressed.”
Older women continue to be discriminated against, subjected to different types of violence and abuse, denied access to health care and an adequate standard of living, and treated with disrespect.
“At times I feel affected and lonely, especially when I am told that what is being done and discussed is not for me as I am old,” said an older woman from Uganda, while another added: “We feel isolated and alienated as if we are animals.”
The level of violence and abuse remains hidden. Data on violence against women is rarely available beyond the age of 49, while older women are reluctant to talk about or report the violence they experience.
“The time has come to end this discrimination and denial of older women’s human rights,” said Jamillah Mwanjisi, regional head of policy and advocacy at HelpAge International.
According to UN data, there are currently 71 million women over the age of 50 across Africa. This is predicted to rise to 111 million by 2030.

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HIV/AIDS: Turning the tide at Mbuya Parish

By David Njagi

The guns of Northern Uganda may have gone silent, but for Faiza Mogeni, the trail of destruction they left continues to stir mixed fits of emotion.

Like many of her neighbours who were destined to flee the volatile North, Faiza found herself without a home, a social life and of course, promise of a future.

But Faiza’s story is one of courage, determination and the belief that what destiny had taken away, faith would bring back.

A suitor appeared and she found herself swimming in the waters of marital bliss. “I loved my husband,” says the 42-year-old mother of three. “It was my hope that God would bless our marriage and protect it from the evils of today’s society.”

For a woman who always believes in going against known odds, what followed was a heart breaking experience that for a moment made her belief she was destined to live under the shadow of a curse.

“My husband would go and commit adultery with a woman who had lost about four lovers,” recalls Faiza. “It was not long before friends started pointing out to me that the woman who was snatching away my husband was infected with HIV/AIDS. After a while she died.”

It was not long too, before the many friends she had made started ebbing away after she tested positive for HIV/AIDS. But her most bitter experience, recalls Faiza, was when she confronted her husband with the news that she was infected.

“I voluntarily went to test at the clinic but instead of appreciating my effort, my husband reprimanded me,” says Faiza. “He accused me of being immoral but I challenged him to go for a test too. Instead he was hostile to me and he eventually deserted me.”

Just as Faiza’s tale evokes compassion, so does it inspire her colleagues here at the Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS initiative in the heart of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. And for those who have aced the test of the pandemic with her, like Dr. Stella Allamo, hope beckons.

Dr. Allamo has been the executive director of the programme at the Parish since 2005, and according to her, the initiative was incepted following the realization that communities were swelling with people who had fled the war but were already infected with the virus.

According to her, Northern Uganda was the beginning of a dark age, for people sneaked past enemy lines clutching whatever earthly possessions they had sifted from their previous homes.

But for most of them, she says, it was tragedy that they carried south because in their bloodstreams lurked the HIV virus that was soon sucked up into t

A woman living with HIV works at a quarry to earn a living.

A woman living with HIV works at a quarry to earn a living.

he labyrinth of finding a place in new settlements. And so the epidemic spread.

“Small Christian organisations were moving out to work in the communities and they realized that many people were dying of HIV/AIDS due to lack of social services,” says Dr. Allamo. “The parish priests came out and called on people to come out and help. The programme is built on the basis of faith, to help people who were displaced from their communities.”

Dr. Allamo has a team of trained nurses here at Mbuya Parish, and according to her, the Reach Out campaign follows a different type of approach to HIV/AIDS because it encourages interaction and creativity, among PLWHA.

And just like she and a few of her colleagues here at Mbuya Parish had anticipated, the programme is giving hope to people who a few years ago were seen as the black sheep of the societies they lived in.

Just a few kilometers outside Kampala, one group makes beads, another weaves an assortment of handicrafts, while yet another, has synergized to farm pigs and excavate ballast at a nearby mine.

“We encourage them to undertake initiatives that they can own and manage with little effort,” says Dr. Allamo. “We then chip in to help where we can in for instance, sourcing markets for their products to ensure the projects are sustainable.”

During last year’s HIV/AIDS implementers’ conference held in Kampla, President Yoweri Museveni appealed for an open approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The disease, he said, can only be fought by demystifying its virulent nature.

For now however, memories of Northern Uganda still linger, but Faiza Mogeni is not about to let the esteem of the friends she has made fall under any shadow of doubt.

“This is because Mbuya Parish has made me new,” she says. “We are just beginning to turn the tide.”

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