Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not profitting from farming

If growing up in an agricultural community were the key to health, the children of Kiamwangi would be thriving. While the farms grow fresh fruits and vegetables for export, health centers continue to treat diseases related to nutritional deficiency. Malnourishment causes stunting, a reduced growth rate. Data from the 2009 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey indicate that nationally, 35 percent of children under five are stunted, while 14 percent are severely stunted.

Jane Hunyu, who farms a quarter-acre plot here, says the children in her region are nearly as frail as their grandparents. "Children are malnourished," says Hunyu. "Recently, we are also seeing increasing cases of diabetes." She concludes that the children's families cannot afford the produce they harvest with their own hands. It's a dilemma facing millions of agricultural workers in Africa, and few know any other way of life. Hunyu also noticed that many small-scale farmers had started growing crop varieties like those produced by big commercial farms. "This required us to buy fertilizers, pesticides and other farm inputs to ensure a good harvest," says Hunyu, a mother of two. "But the crops started failing due to erratic rainfall and many farmers were left desperate."

Globally, a recent report from the Save the Children charity estimated that half a billion children could grow up physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years because of poor diet. Most of these children live in developing countries where key food groups such as meat, milk and vegetables are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the poor.

"Kenyans should start reaching out to traditional staple foods such as finger millet, because our studies show that they are richer in nutrients for both mothers and children," says Clement Kamau, a researcher with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Researchers are rallying behind this shift for an important reason. They say that historically these varieties have been considered the 'poor man's crops' such as sorghum.


No comments: