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Resistance to new crops and the government’s role

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Kenya’s history is dotted with stories of resistance across the centuries. Right from resisting Christianity which brought education, to other formal resistances like the Nandi resistance against building the railway line on their land. Our heroes and heroines of such moments have ended up either right or outrightly wrong depending on the information that fed their resistance fires. Resisting new ideas, agenda, ideologies or even crops didn’t start with GMO crops and products, it has been and is going to be with us for eons.

The most common and constant factor to these “anti-campaigns” has been the influence by the political class who seek to influence government policy or are being used by major players to set the rules of the game in their own favor by feeding the masses with innuendos laced with political undertones. At the beginning of such movements, the group that’s always “pro idea” always seem overwhelmed until the tide is turned by the same “nay-saying” political class to the side of the “pro-campaigners’. Whatever shifts the tide in such tight situations is a matter better left to us to guess and hypothesize.

One of our network farmers Ahmed Tall planting potatoes in Somalia. Photo credit: Ahmed Tall

The current resistance to GMO technology, crops and products has a similar storyline to what is happening across the world. Records show that certain crops and technologies were resisted by individuals, communities, civilizations, and governments. This was before people understood the actual values and real benefits of the crops. In my opinion, I urge my readers to first consider the benefits in something and weigh them against purported disadvantages before taking a firm position on matters that touch on human life.

Landowners resistance to cane farming in the Mumias region of western Kenya

In Kenya, a story is told of how the government established a sugarcane milling factory (Mumias Sugar in western Kenya) by an act of parliament. In 1971, community land at Elureko in the Nabongo kingdom, which is present day Mumias, was set aside to build a cane milling factory and plant sugarcane to supply the miller. Sugarcane had been growing in the area for over 50 years with jageries scattered all over.  So sugarcane farming was not a new idea or crop, but the milling of the sugarcane into white grains that could be added to tea and other drinks was!

This forced the government to use public barazas to educate the communities on the benefits of growing sugarcane and producing sugar which faced resistance after political merchants incited farmers making them to believe that mill white sugar would cause impotence among other health risks. The government had to organize “sugar licking” meetings where farmers were rounded up, given free tea sweetened with sugar, and raw grains of sugar to lick just to prove it was not harmful as rumored.

Antoine Parmentier and how he promoted the potato in Europe

While landowners in Kenya were resisting the introduction of the sugarcane industry in the 20th century, Europe had been reeling in its share of crop resistance history with a man who is credited to have pushed the acceptance and adoption of the potato as a food crop. Frenchman Antoine Parmentier first encountered potatoes in a Prussian prison. Back at home, the French, and Europe by extension, were using the potato as animal feed and food only for the starving as there was a belief potato caused leprosy or other diseases, even death.

Parmentier’s experience with potatoes while in prison transformed his thinking. He had eaten potatoes and didn’t get leprosy; neither did he die as most locals back in France believed. After his release from prison he set on a mission to prove to the French that potatoes were good for human consumption.

Parmentier conducted research on the nutritional benefits of potatoes which received accolades. When the French people remained leery, he organized lavish dinners featuring potatoes that were attended by celebrities and politicians.  War and famine had a role in the eventual acceptance of potato in France. It’s highly believed that the potato ended famine in northern Europe after its arrival and acceptance. It’s said to have helped some European nations assert domination over most of the world and fuelled the rise of the west between 1750 and 1950.

The following are similarities between the two stories about the resistance to sugarcane farming in western Kenya and the potato in Europe, in relation to the current resistance to the GMO technology by various countries across the world;

  1. There were unfounded superstitions that fuelled the “anti-campaigns” that have been disapproved by science. The belief that potatoes could cause leprosy is similar to the believe that sugar from sugarcane would cause impotence, and that GMO food and products cause cancer.   
  2. The belief that potatoes were meant for livestock feed alone is not far from anti GMO campaigners who insist that the technology can only be used to manufacture animal feed but not good for human consumption.
  3. The influence political players had in fighting or stalling the growth of the potato for human consumption reminds us of how political players in western Kenya worked hard to either stop or encourage the adoption of sugarcane as a major income earner in the region, and how a few politicians are against the implementation of the GMO technology.   
  4. By employing the hosting of potato dinners to increase its publicity and acceptability as food, Parmentier was not far from the miller and government in Kenya which used barazas (meetings organized by local administration) and served tea sweetened with sugar. They went as far as licking grains of sugar to demonstrate to the landowners that indeed sugar wasn’t dangerous to cause impotence! Presently, the Kenya government has allowed GMO seed developers, scientist and researchers to run awareness exhibitions in the country. A major exhibition is happening at KICC Nairobi on 8th and 9th of February 2023.
  5. We can all agree that the potato revolution had its heroes like Antoine Parmentier. Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier, who attended the lavish tuber dinners, and the King and queen of France who were presented a bouquet of potato flowers, just like the GMO campaign in Kenya has its front-line heroes and advocates like Dr. William Samoei Ruto who is the President of the republic of Kenya and others pushing from the front-line.

Resistance is mostly brewed by misinformation, while misinformation is killed by scientifically proven facts. If the world was to be fed on rumors and half-truths, life in its essence would lose meaning because people would live under constant fear and run away from their own shadows.  In my pro-GMO campaign, I strive to put facts ahead of fear and encourage my readers to work with the truth towards a food secure future.

On the resistance to new crops, I want my readers to know that the sugarcane that was resisted in my home are in the early 70s turned out to be the mainstay of my people. The company paid cane farmers good money for their cane deliveries, build and maintained good roads, build schools, hospitals, water springs, sank boreholes, and generally improved the livelihoods of over 45,000 cane farmers and their families by the year 2000.

Mumias Sugar Company was one of the leading government parastals of the early 80s and late 90s that contributed hundreds of millions to the exchequer hence helping in nation building. Similar benefits are possible with GMO technology, which if fully implemented shall ensure a food secure nation which is an integral part to the overall growth and development of Kenya.

Preparing banana and plantain suckers for planting to reduce pests and increase yield

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Agriculture is considered Malawi’s economic mainstay. Overall, agriculture makes up nearly 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is by far the country’s largest employer.

Thus, production of crops such as bananas—which are widely grown by smallholder farmers in Malawi for both commercial and household consumption—is critical to the country’s development.

However, the growth of Malawi’s banana industry has been hampered by a number of challenges. For example, statistics show that the country has lately lost 30,000 hectares of bananas due to poor agricultural practices, diseases and lack of access to clean planting materials.

Also, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi is currently importing about 20,000 metric tonnes (mt) of bananas per year from East Africa due to its poor banana production.

Despite all efforts to avert the situation, Malawi’s banana industry is still grappling with problems such as lack of access to clean planting materials.

Image of nematodes and banana weevils that affect the growth of banana. Picture credit: SAWBO

But its never too late to turn the tide!

In this article, you will learn how to prepare banana and plantain suckers before planting to remove pests, and how to use pieces of cut stems to trap and control weevils for bountiful yields and better crops.

The information is courtesy of Scientific Animations Without Borders-SAWBO which is a Purdue University-based program (formally at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then Michigan State University) that creates and distributes animated educational videos free of charge.

SAWBO transforms extension information on relevant topics such as agriculture, disease and women’s empowerment, into 2D, 2.5D and 3D animations, which are then voice overlaid into a diversity of languages from around the world.

How Best to Prepare Banana And Plantain Suckers for Planting

Nematodes—which are too small to see—and weevils can be a serious problem for your banana and plantain crops. However, according to SAWBO, you can deal with these pests and have better crops by:

Treating suckers with boiling water

Suckers are often infested with nematodes and banana weevils. By immersing your suckers for thirty seconds in boiling water, you will kill the pests and have clean planting material.

Image of banana suckers being treated before planting, and a banana weevils trap. Picture credit: SAWBO

First, select suckers from healthy plants—at least twenty centimeters (20 cm) around—and about six and a half centimeters (6.5 cm) cross (this is about the length of your shortest finger). Use a knife to remove roots and any damaged or rotten areas by cutting and peeling the corm until they are clean white. NOTE: Do not use suckers that have a lot of rot or weevil holes, but rather, only use clean and healthy suckers from healthy plants.

To treat suckers with boiling water, you will need the following things:

  • Firewood and a frame for the fire.
  • A container for boiling the water—that is large enough so that the entire corm, and up to twenty centimeters (20 cm) above the corm will be covered.
  • Enough water to fill your container—two to three-quarters full.
  • Two pieces of rope, about sixty centimeters (60 cm) in length each.
  • One solid stick, approximately two and a half to three meters long.
  • Thirty (30) small stones or beans and a small container to hold them.
  • A basket or a sack

After collecting all the above needed materials, firstly, build your fire frame and place your container. Fill the container—two-thirds to three-quarters full with water. Tie each end of one piece of rope to each handle of the basket to create a loop with the rope. Then, place the stick through each loop of the rope.

You will need three people to treat the suckers. Two people will lower the basket with the suckers into the boiling water by holding onto the stick from which the basket hangs, while the other person will mark the correct amount of time for the suckers to be treated in the boiling water. If you are only treating a few suckers, you can also use a sack instead of a basket.

Put 30 stones into a pile and place a container, approximately fifty centimeters (50 cm) from the pile of stones. Once the water has begun boiling, place the suckers in the basket—corm at the bottom of the basket and the stem up—with one person holding each end of the stick to which the ropes holding the basket are attached, and prepare to lower the basket into the boiling water. Be sure the person marking the time is with the pile of stones.

Slowly lower the basket into the boiling water. As soon as the basket is placed in the boiling water, the person marking time will begin to move each of the thirty stones one by one from the pile into the container. NOTE: The stones should be moved at a consistent pace.

As soon as the last stone has been moved from the pile to the container, the basket should be removed from the boiling water. This will ensure the suckers have been treated for enough time to kill the pests. NOTE: If you treat the suckers in boiling water for two short a time, you will not kill the pests. If you treat them for two long, you will damage the sucker and it will not be good planting material. So, it is very important to immerse the suckers for the right length of time.

By treating your suckers in boiling water before planting, you will kill the pests that exist and have clean healthy planting material, resulting in better crops.

Placing freshly-cut banana or plantain stems in your field

You can also help control weevils by placing freshly-cut banana or plantain stems in your field. First, cut stems into pieces that are about twenty centimeters (20 cm) long, then split those stem pieces into half—lengthwise.

Place the cut-side of the stem facing down onto the soil. Place the cut stems about forty centimeters (40 cm) away from the banana plant. Do this throughout your field. The cut stem will attract weevils away from your plants. It is best to place the cut stems in your field around 6 pm in the evening. Check the stem traps daily for the first four days. In the morning, collect and kill any weevils found on the traps and replace them back onto the soil, cut-side facing down.

By preparing suckers before planting and using stem traps to control weevils, you can achieve higher yields and increase lifespan of your banana and plantain plantations.

Well, henceforth, I hope nothing will drive you frantic when preparing banana and plantain suckers for planting to remove pests as I have shared with you some vital information on how best you can do that.

Now, having read this article, I urge you to watch a video by SAWBO on how to prepare banana and plantain suckers before planting to remove pests, and how to use pieces of cut stems to trap and control weevils for higher yields and better crops. The video will help you to fully understand all the steps I have explained in this article. Surely, it won’t be daunting at all to follow the steps if you watch the video. Lastly, let me also encourage you to kindly share this article widely and visit the SAWBO website for more free animations on relevant topics such as agriculture, health and women’s empowerment.

Celebrating SAWBO animation success stories: Janet Boke

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In the last post, I started a series featuring our volunteer’s success stories from different regions of the country. These volunteers are members of the Kataru concepts and SAWBO network in Kenya. They are part of the team that’s been disseminating SAWBO animated videos to farmers, community based organizations (CBOs), self-help groups, and other members of their communities.

In our network, we encourage volunteers to start by accessing the videos from the online library using the 3GP App, watching to internalize the processes captured, and then sharing to target groups. Surprisingly, the “internalization” of the information does not stop with the sharing, but extends to the volunteers family farms and gardens! On these farms, volunteers use the acquired knowledge to transform their practices in crop care, animal husbandry, and other lessons learned with brilliant results.

The Migori county and Nyanza region network volunteer Janet on her sweet potato farm. Photo credit: Janet Boke

In today’s feature, the volunteer is Janet Boke, a schoolteacher from Kuria west in Migori County. Janet has worked with our network as a county coordinator, and volunteer where she helps coordinate activities in five counties in Nyanza region. Just like all professionals based in rural Kenya, Janet has a farm where she practices mixed farming. She confides that she’s a proud SAWBO network Kenya member who keeps poultry, chickens, grows sweet potatoes, cassava, ground nuts, maize and beans.

 The following are Janet’s exact words while describing her journey disseminating SAWBO animated videos and growing the network.

“l learned about SAWBO through a friend who had met James Kamuye Kataru in Bungoma county, western Kenya. She explained to me how she had learned from him about great videos in an online library that farmers could access free of charge and use the information on their farms. This information came at a time when I was struggling with lots of guess work on my farm. I didn’t know exactly what to do to improve yields. Since then l have watched lots of SAWBO videos, gained a lot of good information which I used on my farm and shared with my friends, workmates, neighbors, and groups I belong to. SAWBO has completely changed my life and the way I do my farming in a big way,” shares Janet.

Challenges faced before knowing SAWBO

When asked about her farming experiences before she knew SAWBO, Janet says, “Initially l used to waste lots of grains after harvest due to poor storage techniques. Weevils would invade the grains at an early stage after harvesting which forced me to use chemicals which irritated my family when eating food stored using the chemicals. Weevils also lowered the quality and value of my grains. I couldn’t make good money when taken to the market.”

 After learning of the jerrycan bean storage video, and watching the animation video on using PICS bags, Janet confides that post-harvest loses are no longer her nightmare. In SAWBO animated videos, she found ways to manage her loses and maintain grain quality while eliminating the use of harmful chemicals to preserve grains.

Chicken farming

On Janet’s farm, she keeps chickens which gives her eggs, meat, and manure which she uses to plant her crops. After reading the Kataru Concepts blog post on protecting chicken against Newcastle disease, Janet learned that indeed the three chicken products, i.e. eggs, meat and droppings could also fetch her good money from their sales.

“My passion for farming made me to rear some chicken, but with little knowledge, the chicken used to die from Newcastle and other chicken related diseases, says Janet.

Poultry chicken on Janet’s farm. Photo credit: Janet Boke

“After I read the Kataru Concepts blog on preventing Newcastle disease in poultry, and watched the listed video, I discovered several things I was missing out on my chicken farm. For example, I didn’t know it was so important to isolate new chickens bought for the market or brought from outside the farm even if they looked fine and healthy. I used to mix not knowing I was endangering my flock.”

Achievements

According to Janet, SAWBO has led her to adopt a lot of good practices including;

  1. Storing grains using hermetically sealed  bags and jerrycan bean storage techniques.
  2. Management of  Newcastle disease through vaccinating and properly handling of chickens.
  3. Using knowledge gained to expand sweet potato farming.
  4. Expanding business opportunities, hence better sustaining her family.
  5. Regularly watching SAWBO animation videos on health and agricultural information on different areas of study to expand her knowledge and share with friends to help curb the common communicable diseases like cholera and Coronavirus and created a healthy environment.

Areas that SAWBO needs to address

The following are areas in Janet’s observation that need indulgence by SAWBO and animated videos created to address.

  1. Disaster management – our country is faced with several natural disasters ranging from famine, hunger, floods, and communal conflicts. It’s Janet’s wish that SAWBO finds time to research on these areas and produce requisite animated videos to address these situations.
  2. F.G.M-Female genital mutilation is a cancer that requires serious intervention. “Having hailed from a marginalized group, l would love to see SAWBO address gender based issues including FGM,” says Janet.

Janet’s story is one among many from our network volunteers that I will be featuring in this blog series. These stories prove that after three years of working with SAWBO animated videos in our communities, we have been the “first line of implementation” right before we engage the communities we come from. Many of our volunteers have been good examples for the community because they implement what they share and teach others to do. This is a trait that has made our network grow strong and spread widely. We simply believe in what we preach!


Celebrating SAWBO animation success stories: Brian Otieno

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In Kenya, the month of December is when families visit their rural homes and spend time with relatives on their farms. Long lost friends catch up and share experiences, slaughter the fattened cow, goat, chicken or turkey, and sink the joy and pain of the ending  year in merry-making. During Christmas festivities people get carried away in having fun as they prepare to end the year and usher in the new with lots of optimism.

In this month, farmers make a kill from chicken, goats, sheep, and other farm produce sales since as we celebrate December as the SAWBO family, I take pleasure to highlight some of our hardworking members who have practiced what they learned from animated videos through implementation on their farms. These are network volunteers who apart from using the videos to educate their communities, have gone further to prove that indeed the knowledge is enabling them to live a productive life.

Brian Otieno

I am an agro ecology farmer and an agricultural economist having pursued an undergraduate degree course in Agricultural Economics and Natural Resource Management from Moi University. The first time I came to learn or rather hear about SAWBO was back in 2021 while writing my project proposal. I came across an animated video by SAWBO as a YouTube ad on  proper bean storage technique which really upscaled my proposal.

“I remember back in school, we formed an agricultural group in which I was the Programs Coordinator. Most of the time it would be quite hectic getting other members to understand my approach towards agricultural production, especially from an agro ecological point of view. This was later on made much easier after joining the SAWBO NETWORK KENYA through Kataru Concepts and their animated videos, for example on how to make raised beds which really helped in elaborating what was on my mind. SAWBO has also come in handy to help my family in learning how to properly go about some issues for example dealing with diseases in poultry production.

Through SAWBO, I’ve been able to learn a lot, not only from their innovative and educational videos but also through direct linkages and interaction with farmers from across the country and some neighboring countries. Additionally, I have gained knowledge from farmer field days and exhibitions. SAWBO has also enabled me connect more with fellow farmers as I am able to simply and elaborately advise them on how to go about some practices.

I believe SAWBO has gone above and beyond not only as a tool for farmers but also to the entire human population since it covers a wide range of topics regarding issues that we face in our day to day lifestyles. As a farmer, I believe that SAWBO can do more and act as a tool to actually get the masses to understand and love agriculture as an important profession for our existence as humans. I believe if SAWBO would be able to make videos that actually capture some aspects of the school curriculum back in our secondary schools, this would really help towards equipping the young generations with the information and the zeal to pursue agriculture as a profession, and not only as a side hustle or retirement activity as it is mostly perceived here in our country, Kenya.

I have worked with SAWBO for almost six months now, since March, 2022 and honestly, it’s one of the best things that have happened to me as a farmer and as an individual, I believe we are yet to achieve more as we continue learning, educating and transforming lives through this initiative.

“Asanteni sana (thank you very much) and I welcome you all to try out SAWBO.”

Grace Saghe Mshambala

I am a public health officer situated in Wumingu /Kishushe ward Taita Taveta county. I came across SAWBO through the Kataru Concepts blog and thereafter followed and viewed the videos via social media platforms.

There was a lot of fear, myths and misconceptions during the Covid 19 pandemic being a new disease and no experience to handle it in the community.

SAWBO came up with Covid 19 videos on how to take precautions and prevention measures which were educative. Being a health care worker, I engaged my fellow Community Health Volunteers and shared the Covid 19 videos through WhatsApp and Xender share. I am grateful they embraced the videos and knowledge and helped to educate the families and community at large.

I can say SAWBO videos helped and made my work easier as I educated the community amidst the pandemic, and after that people could travel, go to the market and go to work with no fear because by watching the videos they learnt to take precautions.

Thank you SAWBO NETWORK KENYA team. Working with the network for one and half years has been of benefit. I have learned a lot.

These two are testimonies from our network volunteers that prove SAWBO has great content! Let’s keep reading more stories in the next blog post.

The anti-GMO petition is an advantage to the technology

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Recent events in the nation have prompted me to look critically at the most popular topic in Kenya, which is about allowing or rejecting genetically modified organisms popularly known as GMO. As much as it’s every citizen’s right to seek more information on such pressing matters, the government has a responsibility to provide the sought information through public participation. This gives government an opportunity to educate citizens on the gains we shall make as a nation after lifting the GMO ban.

The Kenya government’s effort at ensuring its citizen are well informed on these matters needs a boost from line development partners, well-meaning lobby groups, institutions, and individuals. It should not relent in its push for the acceptance of GMO technology in the country. The public should exercise patience and seek information on the topic from relevant government agencies like International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Potato Center (CIP), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), and other government departments that deal with agricultural research and food security. These are the custodians of reliable, actionable information which they provide freely and timely.

Going back to the court ruling delivered Monday November 28th by a high court judge in Nairobi,  there were a number of issues captured in the ruling which need clarification by relevant government arms and other interested parties to clear the dust raised by anti-GMO lobbyists. As a Pro-GMO activist, I feel the government did well to appeal the ruling and get an opportunity to fill any gaps the current legislation might have left and allowed doubts against the lifting of the ban on GMO products. These factors, if considered by government will greatly improve citizens’ trust for GMO technology. They include;

  1. The temporary suspension of the importation and distribution of genetically modified crops, products, and materials by government, or individuals directly or indirectly pending a determination in a second lawsuit against lifting the ban on GMO looks like a win for the anti-GMO activists. However, it is a reprieve because it allows the government which suspended the ban sufficient time to present facts in its appeal. It’s an opportunity for government to present all measures it has put in place to ensure public safety and its GMO technology agenda. We expect to see an increased acceptance of the technology amongst its citizens.
  1. With this suspension of the ban, we expect legal minds to delve into the matter and put checks and balances in place to actualize the governments agenda on food security. I may term the petitioner’s claims that ‘lifting the ban and removal of regulatory protocols imposed in 2012 is unlawful and procedural’ as a shot in the dark, and a blessing in disguise for the pro-GMO team. This is because governments follow up executive pronouncements with actionable work plans the petitioner might not be privy to, and needs to make a follow-up to get regular updates on the progress covered so far. There is a misconception that GMO has come to Kenya after the cabinet lifted the 10 year ban, yet the technology has been in existence on research basis for a number of years. 
  1. The allegation that GMO products pose health risks are farfetched as evidenced in a letter signed by 160 Nobel Laureates in 2016. Using the plight of the poor who struggle to access good quality, nutritious food for self and family as the most vulnerable in imagined health risks caused by GMO technology is a lame excuse to shore up evidence for non-existent consequences. Diseases have been here with us long before lifting the GMO ban. I strongly believe that the solution to incessant hunger and lack of nutritious food in Kenya lies in GMO technology which shall cause farmers to produce more nutritious food to feed their families and have extra to sell and generate income.
  1. On lifting the ban without public participation, it’s a well-known fact that it’s a requirement of the law in Kenya. For most government projects and programs of such importance to take off, we require national and county government involving citizens through public participation sessions because according to article 1, sovereign power belongs to the people. However it does not bar institutions from engaging in research before their findings are finally presented to the people via public participation forums.
  1. By cabinet suspending the ban and allowing the reintroduction of GMO didn’t mean a blanket uplift of all protocols controlling the introduction of genetically modified foods in Kenya. This is a misconception on the intent of the Kenya government. A visit to three research centers developing a new GMO potato variety revealed strict rules and observations by all researchers, workers, and visitors to such facilities. There are tight controls on the use, handling, accessing, propagation and disposal of all research materials in those centers. This ensures no material meant for research can be used for seed propagation and multiplication unless the research is about that and the required regulations have all been met and validated. 
  1. Claims that lifting the ban will lead to an end of all indigenous seeds are far-fetched: No sane country can decimate its indigenous seed for GMO or any other seed. The Kenyan government is not trying to force citizens on or sneak GMO material and products into the country using a back door. That’s a matter even a pro-GMO proponent like myself cannot accept. Indigenous crops and products shall be maintained and grown organically and conventionally alongside GMO crops while following stipulated rules. Organic seed shall be made available, where farmers and consumers shall decide what to plant and eat.
  1. There was a general fear in the petitioner that GMO technology shall run our small scale farmers out of business. I personally think climate change has already made more farms unproductive than we can imagine or mitigate. When provided, GMO seed with all its expected features can help fight climate change and feed the growing population. This shall still be done alongside organic farming. The lifting of the ban is long overdue, was not hurried, and has not violated any farmers and consumers rights any more than what the fear mongers are doing.

As we plan to fight hunger and food insecurity caused by a population increase and climatic changes, we need to be objective and highly selective of the information we consume. Anything bordering on public life and safety has to be factual and from tested, reliable, government sources and international partners who are experienced in the field in question. The misinformation by the anti-GMO campaigners won’t provide us with solutions, but an overwhelming fear for the unknown and non-existent dangers. Let’s not fight GMO technology. Let us embrace it.  


 

UNDERSTANDING GENETIC ENGINEERING AND ITS BENEFITS

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During the inauguration of Dr. William Samoei Ruto as the 5th President of the republic of Kenya held at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani in Nairobi, the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) debate was thrust to the fore of all Kenyan media stations, social media platforms, blogs, institutions, public transport, market centers, and all manner of gatherings. Even church functions and services were not left behind as Kenyans behaved like the proverbial 10 blind men who were let to feel an elephant and give their opinion of what the animal felt like!

In his acceptance speech, which put Kenya second in Africa after South Africa, to allow the open cultivation of genetically modified crops, the newly elected president declared the adoption of GMO technology as a solution to recurring hunger causing deaths in communities across semi-arid areas of the country. The 10 year ban was lifted by cabinet a few days later approving the farming and importation of GMO crops in order to make the country food secure.

My focus in this blog is to delve into the GMO debate and share a few personal insights on the healthy discussion that’s taken the country hostage and seek to dispel rumors meant to make the technology contentious, yet it’s safe for our country and wananchi. But before I do that, allow me to declare that I am fully PRO GMO. I fully support the president’s declaration on the technology, and encourage you to go for the FACTS in the debate, but NOT FEAR! Allow me to also add that genetic engineering has been with us for ages and so it’s not as foreign as it’s made to sound by those opposed to it.

What is GMO?

This is a plant or animal whose DNA has been altered to improve a desired trait. Often these are traits that promote growth, increase yields, provide resistance to pests and diseases, and make the crop or animal more resilient. Humans have altered plants for centuries through conventional breeding used to modify domestic animals, crops, and other organisms. In my opinion, genetic engineering isn’t a strange phenomenon. It has always been there with us. Genetic engineering just lets the process of breeding happen quicker and more efficiently than conventional breeding.

As I mentioned above, genetic engineering has always been used to improve plant or animal productivity. The following breakdown helps explain the benefits such enhancements achieved;

Faster growth of crops and animals: Crops and animals can be genetically modified to grow faster, give higher yields, thrive in low nutrient soils, increase biomass and seed yields, and ensure a steady food supply and reduced prices. Any nation whose population is outstripping arable land like Kenya needs to embrace this technology in order to use the available land to produce enough food to feed its population.

Disease and drought tolerant crops: Due to poor rainfall, lack of expansive irrigation systems, and climate change, disease and drought resistant/tolerant crops and animals are necessary to replace depleted stocks ravaged by drought and hunger across Kenya and Africa. In the past few months, our media stations have been running gory images of entire communities displaced as herds of cattle, donkeys, camels, flocks of sheep, goats, and chicken are wiped out by persistent drought. This proves that now is the time for governments to follow in Kenya’s footsteps and fully embrace GMO technology.

Less use of pesticides and herbicides on farms: Pesticide prices and their effects on human health have been the “new normal” on farms and households. Poisonous components in certain pesticides and herbicides have had them banned from use on certain continents.  The thought of a crop that has a reduced reliance on chemical pesticides since they are pest or disease resistant hence lowering the costs of production, making farmers more profits for their harvest is a welcome idea.

Increased nutrition and taste in foods: Most challenges faced by farmers have caused poor crop quality which can reduce crop nutrition and taste. This can cause the food to lose its original flavor and aroma. Poor quality food contributes to malnutrition and other health challenges. With nutritionally enhanced GMO products, the billions that governments have been spending on supplements might be able to be reduced and these saved funds used on other priority projects.   

Longer crop shelf life: Some genetically modified crops, like certain fruits, have longer shelf life. This is because they delay ripening and spoilage, hence longer storage and shelf life. This enhancement cuts down the farmers post-harvest loses, with families increasing their grocery stocks of “would be perishable stocks” reducing on shopping time. Some of these crops are also enhanced in disease tolerance, stress, cold and heat (abiotic stresses).    

Readers, I want to reiterate that embracing genetically modified organisms will improve our health, economy, and ensure a food secure society while still preserving Kenyan farming traditions. I urge fellow Kenyans to collectively support the president and his government in implementing the legislative framework that improves our genetic engineering uptake as a nation by seeking for facts that dispel the fear for the technology. 

SAWBO AS A MODEL APPROACH TO UNITE AFRICA AGAINST SOCIAL CHALLENGES

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While interacting with fellow SAWBO NETWORK leaders from different parts of African and sharing our experiences on using SAWBO-Scientific Animations Without Borders animated content, I realized that our separation by distance has been eliminated by real-time technology and our countries “made border-less” by the “Without Borders” in SAWBO’s name. Being a people that face similar social challenges, I concluded that SAWBO is a logical opportunity for Africa to craft a common approach to providing workable solutions and improving practices in our communities and countries.

After watching a video on a training session held by Mr. Wanangwa Msowoya who is the SAWBO NETWORK MALAWI Knowledge Manager, I was even more convinced that using the same approach we’ve been using in Kenya to disseminate SAWBO content, can unite African communities as we increase peer-to-peer education and fight poverty. In fact, we are now encouraged to employ the same approach in Liberia, Lesotho, Niger, Zambia, and other places our networks are taking root as we share experiences.

In Malawi, the 25 members of the Salisbury line community faith-based organization in Mzuzu were trained on the following topics which are covered in several SAWBO animation videos:

1.         What is SAWBO?

2.         How to use animation videos

3.         Installing and using the 3gp video deployer app

4.         How to access, watch, and share animation videos using the app

5.         How to wash your hands

6.         Cholera prevention(in Chichewa-Malawi)

7.         Survival gardening: How to create compost

8.         Scientific Animations without Borders (SAWBO)

9.         Mbeya manure

10.       Vertical gardening

The session which was held on Saturday October 22 introduced the Mzuzu community to free educative content provided by SAWBO and accessed by other communities in different languages across Africa.

Challenges addressed in the videos and solutions provided.

Another point of convergence by my fellow SAWBO NETWORK leaders from across Africa is that thematic areas addressed are at the core of Africa’s socio-economic emancipation. They are scientifically researched, attractively packaged in simple language, brief and straight to the point, comprehensively educative, and enjoyable to watch repeatedly. In other words, this is trustable “Gold Standard” information.  These videos have been “Africanized’ in a sense, that the content is very familiar with our local practices with more tips we didn’t know could work causing excitement after realizing we’ve been sitting on resources that are solutions! A good example is the jerrican bean storage technique which has revolutionized the way we store grains for food and seed to plant in the following seasons. Nobody ever imagined that a jerrycan could be used to store grains! However, using the polythene paper to secure the jerrican that’s filled with seed is so familiar with a local practice where the same technique is used to secure water in a jerrican.  

Translating videos into African languages and dialects.

Language has the power to unite and make people feel proud, recognized, and ultimately belong. SAWBO has broken the language barrier and helped trainers and extension service providers make inroads and navigate the rich and diverse African terrain. Translating animated videos into  local African languages and dialects for use in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Rwanda, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger just to mention a few being covered, is a great achievement.

One advantage to these translations is that the animated videos are friendlier to illiterate and semi-literate farmers or traders right in an African village. This provides a solution of access to extension services, as these farmers traditionally do not easily access government extension services. Notably, access to mobile phones, such as smartphones, provide easy access to this educative content both online and offline. The videos are provided free of charge to individuals, structured groups, educational institutions, and other persons of interest in our communities who can access internet to download from the SAWBO website or using the 3gp App that’s easy to install on 3G network smartphones, then share and watch them offline or using their television sets with friends and family at home.

 Food security and climate change intervention.

With a growing population, depleted food reserves, and increasing climatic change concerns, Sub-Saharan Africa is facing its worst nightmare in producing enough nutritious food to feed its ever-increasing population. Changing weather patterns, desertification, poor soil fertility, and over-reliance on scarce agricultural land have reduced food production as post-harvest management and poor storage have reduced food quality. Fertilizer prices have shot through the roof forcing farmers to struggle to manage their crop fields. Cases of undernourishment, hunger, and food insecurity are on the rise.

Intervention measures put in place by SAWBO include several animated videos on proper farm preparation and use that include raised beds, composting to enable farmers produce organic manure locally and use on their farms, drip irrigation systems to water farm during the dry period, environmentally friendly pesticides made from the neem trees, preserving grains and other food, storing grains and seed using the jerrican bean storage technique , and many more interventions are applicable in our African communities. As stated earlier, many of these video animations are translated into local languages and dialects.

Improved health interventions.

A common approach to disease control and health management is key to our continent’s progress. Uniting to fight and control epidemics such as Cholera, Ebola, Covid-19, Dengue, Zika virus, and many others can be achieved by sharing SAWBO animated videos across our borders. This rich knowledge has helped us realize the common practices we share across communities. Through unity, we can identify areas of interest, locate those that need intervention, mobilize resources, and notify our governments and other partners within a short time.

Women and youth empowerment

Through uniting to share SAWBO content with my fellow African network leaders, we’ve also discovered that we share the same structured groups used to advocate for youth and women’s empowerment. Organizations like NGOs, CBOs, self-help groups, and associations working within our communities across Africa are called by the similar names, structured in the same way, approach challenges in the same way, and attain desirable results. Using SAWBO content in a variety of thematic areas, we can achieve growth and success in these organizations and attain productivity.

It is high time for Africa to unite with SAWBO and use the content to provide solutions to our common challenges in agriculture, health, social growth, and development. This is an organization that’s come to our rural villages, sees no social borders or boundaries, and speaks to our hearts in local languages and dialects! Using social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and organizing training sessions in communities, we can make SAWBO content universal as we form strong intervention groups and grow them into expansive networks that we can use in the dissemination of information and content. Let’s embrace the knowledge!

BLOGGING FOR SAWBO

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In this post, I want to address my fellow bloggers and vloggers across Africa. The celebrated wielders of the “cyber-pen” who ceaselessly punch at their keyboards and keypads to entertain, educate, and inform their followers.  But first, I want us to get the exact meaning of who a blogger, blog, vlogger, and vlog are.  This shall help us understand how to approach this exciting journey of blogging on SAWBO content. Before we delve into blogging, we must appreciate the different styles, genres, and passions exhibited by most bloggers. The level of creativity and power in the choice of words used in a post determines the total performance of the blog post on the online audience.

Farmers inspecting a sweet potato farm. Such field visits provide bloggers with good content for writing blogs. Picture by Florence Olwanda.

Blog vs. Vlog – What’s the difference?

Most readers have been confusing the avid love for and use of social media for blogging. Having an attractive and active Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram, or other social media platforms isn’t enough to be considered blogging.

Both blogs and vlogs can be generated by documenting activities, events, ideas, and procedures as captured in the above picture which illustrates farmers examining a sweet potato farm. I must confess that SAWBO content provides a wide variety of “award-winning” blogging and Vlogging ideas.

A blog: This is described as “a regularly updated website or web page run by an individual, or small group of people, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”

A vlog: A personal website or social media account where a person regularly posts short videos.

Who are bloggers and vloggers?

Bloggers write about events, activities, topics, or situations and publish them on blogs. The act of blogging in itself is “adding new material on given topics to regularly update a blog.”  Blogging increases the blog content and gives readers variety from which to sample.

Vloggers are people who regularly post short videos on a vlog. Unlike bloggers, vloggers do not necessarily need to own a website. They can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube to share their short videos.

Before blogging for SAWBO-Scientific Animations Without Borders, a blogger needs to consider the following steps:

  1. Understand that SAWBO, a research program based at Purdue University (USA) researches basic processes in agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, climate change resilience, etc, and creates educative animation videos translated into several local languages. These animation videos are available to share for educational purposes free of charge and can be used by communities to improve their practices and lives in the mentioned areas.
  2. Access the SAWBO animation video library on the website at https://sawbo-animations.org/ or by installing the SAWBO 3GP App from this link https://sawbo-animations.org/app/3gp/update. After installing the App, use it to download, watch and internalize animation videos.
  3. After accessing the SAWBO online video library, the blogger needs to familiarize themselves with the listed video categories and choose one they have a passion for. For example, experienced bloggers, writers, and vloggers have specific topics they enjoy writing about. Others can seamlessly navigate between several topics and whip up fine blogs. However, it’s important to select a category or categories one can write about with lots of ease.

The available categories of SAWBO animated videos are listed below;

            Agriculture

            Economics

            Health

            Women’s Empowerment

            Peace & Justice

            Climate Change Resilience

After watching a number of animated videos from your category of choice, proceed and consider the following as you write about it;

  1. If you come from a community that hasn’t been reached by SAWBO networks and content, relate the information in the videos to how it can impact lives and practices. Think of how this information will help farmers, health workers, women groups, self-help groups, etc to improve their service in the community. Finally, write about all the good things you believe can happen as you encourage your readers to access the information via provided links.
  2. In case you come from a community that has been reached by an existing SAWBO network and content, plan to write on how additional content from other videos can further improve the way viewers handle crops, animals, farm produce, and other aspects addressed in the videos. Let your blogging encourage viewers to install the 3GP App, access the online videos library, download, and access more educative videos, and share with everybody they know who stands to benefit from the information.
  3. Impact stories are another fodder for good blog posts. Frequent visits to animated video viewers at their workplaces, farms, etc, and capturing their stories and observations on their personal experience with SAWBO content is worth writing about. This happens after a period of sharing content in a given community. Impact stories also help to gauge community video intake.

I take this opportunity to encourage bloggers and vloggers to sample SAWBO animated videos which are provided for educational purposes free of charge and blog about them as directed above, share them on their vlogs and blogs, and encourage their users to watch and practice the contents at home.  

USING THE SAWBO VIDEO DEPLOYER APP

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I have been collaborating with Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) for close to three years, which I must say is the most fulfilling and exciting exercise for anyone who has a passion for healthy communities that are food secure, focused on development, and ready to embrace technological advancements to facilitate a holistic growth.

What makes SAWBO content exciting is the use of scientifically proven methods and practices found in the numerous, brief, and easy-to-understand animation videos which are also translated into many languages and dialects. Plus, SAWBO content is always free to use for educational purposes.

There are two main ways to access SAWBO animated videos. They are;

1.         through the VIDEO LIBRARY on the SAWBO website.

2.         by using the SAWBO 3GP video deployer App.

A SAWBO 3GP App installation advert. Image by Moseti

 Accessing the video library on the website

This can be referred to as the “traditional way” of accessing, downloading, watching, and sharing SAWBO content. It requires computer-proficient users with high-end smartphones that can access the internet to download the videos. This method can be difficult for those who have low-end smartphones or are not very familiar with navigating websites.

Using the SAWBO 3GP video deployer App

The SAWBO video deployer App is the most convenient way to access, download, watch and share animated videos from the library.  This 3GP App is compact and user-friendly. The simple functions allow a new user to navigate freely and master its use quickly. This App works on smartphones with lower screen resolution, low storage memory, and 3G networks. In summary, it’s meant for low-end smartphone users who are the majority in our communities.

Installing the App

The App can be installed in two ways:

  1. For smartphones with the operating system android 9 and below, use the installation file that can be shared via social media platforms.
  2.  For android 10 and above smartphones, install the App using the link https://sawbo-animations.org/app/3gp/update/.  I recommend all users install and use the App to access, watch, and share SAWBO videos.

 What to master in the App

The SAWBO 3GP APP landing page shows basic functions. Image by Moseti.

When using the SAWBO deployer app, one needs to master the four major functions displayed on the home/landing page. This makes navigation very easy and enjoyable. The main functions are;

Video Library

This option links you to the SAWBO Video Library. You MUST be online to access the content.

My videos

This lists all videos you have downloaded from the online SAWBO Library to your phone. Once downloaded you can access them offline.

Share this App

This allows you to share the SAWBO App installation file with friends on your contact list via WhatsApp.

More functions

This takes you to a list of other SAWBO App functions including sharing the App installation URL, running surveys, and registering with your organization.

SAWBO has organized a number of webinars to further train users on how to install and use the App. In case you need a link to register and attend the sessions please contact me via email at kataruconcepts@gmail.com or WhatsApp number +254 714 448 254

Who can benefit from SAWBO animation videos?

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In previous blog posts I took time to expound the dissemination of SAWBO content  through groups that form networks to enhance the sharing of digital content in various communities. I have received several questions from my readers seeking clarification on a number of issues such as the difference between a WhatsApp group and network, how to start and manage these groups, how to select who to add, and the challenges experienced in the whole process. Most of these questions have been addressed in preceding blog posts, via WhatsApp chats, and during physical meetings and training sessions.

In today’s post, I want to delve into the question that seems simple, yet very important for a successful dissemination process and network expansion. Answering this question shall help my readers, network members, and those encountering SAWBO animated video for the first time to understand how and where to begin the process of disseminating content. This post has been made possible by the indulgence with my friends Mulume from DR Congo, Muungani from Zimbabwe, Kambala from South Africa, Michael from Ghana, and Wanangwa who has started one of the most promising SAWBO network groups in Malawi.

Kataru concepts volunteers preparing for a farmer’s field day. Picture by Kataru concepts.

Friends, we are going to find answers to the question, Who can benefit from SAWBO animation videos?

When I first encountered SAWBO videos, I wanted to understand who exactly could benefit from this great content and if I were in a position to reach them. As I scrolled through the library watching the listed animation videos, I noticed that they had been put in different categories including agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, peace & justice, climate change and resilience. By my own observation, I came up with the following beneficiaries of SAWBO content.

Family, friends, and contacts

It’s natural for everybody with any form of news to share it with family, friends, and contacts. These are the closest confidants one can easily share videos or audios they find online or on social media. SAWBO content spreads faster if it takes the same route. Definitely, when a farmer that’s been looking for information on how to plant banana suckers finds it, they will start by sharing with a family member, a fellow farmer, or a contact interested in the same knowledge. The farmer will move to their local farmer’s group and share with friends and contacts too.

Farmers

In Kenya, everybody seems to have a farm, either in the rural areas or somewhere in the urban centers where they stay. Some have made farms in their backyard where they grow a variety of fruits and vegetables to provide their family with a constant supply of fresh food.  Whether it’s a farmer owning a modern urban kitchen garden on their balcony, or a rancher owning large tracks of land, SAWBO content is a great addition to their daily information trove.

In the Agriculture category, we have lots of videos that provide knowledge on proper crop handling, preparation and application of manure, preparation of environmentally friendly pesticides, proper crop husbandry techniques, reducing post-harvest loss, and the complete agricultural value chain. If you have farmers in your community, please feel confident to watch and share SAWBO videos on different agricultural practices with them.

Health workers

Kenya has one of the largest health worker volunteer networks in Africa. Commonly referred to as community health volunteers (CHV) and community health workers (CHW), the two are made up of community members who compliment the health sector by providing non-medical services to households. This network is organised with representation to village level and has real-time information on which household requires which intervention. The network members work in collaboration with local NGOs, CBOs, and groups in community intervention programs like distribution of mosquito nets, collecting data on infections in the community, training the community on basic hygiene practices, etc.

In case your community has a similar network of health workers, please proceed and start sharing SAWBO animated videos with them. They need the knowledge to equip themselves to handle basic challenges facing their communities.

Women and youth groups

In communities with several women and youth groups doing projects in table banking, farming, trading in goods, providing a variety of services, etc, they qualify to access SAWBO content and videos. At the beginning of my animation video dissemination journey, these groups were an easy pick because they are found everywhere in my community. Some have frequent meetings to deliberate on group activities, hence, providing you with an opportunity to visit and share video content with their membership.

Women and youth groups are the simplest, most approachable, and less expansive groups to meet and share content. Their meeting venues are in their members’ homes or local churches making them easily accessible.

NGOs, CBOs, self-help groups, etc.

There are so many NGOs and CBOs operating across Africa. They all deal with economic and social matters affecting our local communities in different ways. The advantage is whatever approach they take, whatever thematic areas they deal with, SAWBO has never run dry of content that can improve their service to the community.  It’s the prerogative of team leaders to approach these NGOs and CBOs, understand their programs and projects in the communities they deal with, identify corresponding SAWBO content that addresses the challenges the group seeks to address, seek audience with their leadership, schedule training meetings with their members, and grow your network of SAWBO content beneficiaries.

Traders

Traders, market place sellers, and shoppers are also beneficiaries of SAWBO animated videos. Their challenges in handling bulk grains and legumes, storage, and transporting have been captured in several animation videos.

The listed are only but a few of SAWBO video content. Our societal needs differ depending on factors like geographical location, agricultural practices, accessibility to facilities and enhancements, etc. However, it’s upon every volunteer planning to start disseminating SAWBO content to analyze their community and decide on the most appropriate persons and groups to approach.

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