Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sacred tears (Part 2)

Let us start wherever we are by declaring enough is enough… We must not wait until we die of hunger and thirst. We must take action and reverse this process.
-Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (from Kenya)

Maize (corn) is the primary staple crop in Kenya -- The food security of the country single handedly depends on its production and availability. People consume far more maize than any other food (~37 million 90-kg bags a year, more than 1/3 of the calories and proteins consumed in the country), and around 4 million Kenyans are small-scale producers of the cereal grain.

As a result of the drought, maize productivity has been severely diminished (see the picture in part 1). The government is predicting that only 20 of the 37 million bags will be produced this year (private institutions are predicting 15m), which will expose nearly the entire country to food insecurity. It also significantly affects the price of maize, which becomes extremely burdensome for the majority of Kenyans who are net consumers (including the majority of small-scale farmers).

The NGO that I am working with has decided that enough is enough -- something more needs to be done before more lives are consumed by hunger.

Fortunately, many large scale donors have come to the same conviction (e.g., the Obama administration has doubled USAID's budget for food security to $1B and the G8 has committed $20B to sustainable agriculture development over the next 3 years).

So we have begun to research and analyze the entire maize value chain -- with the intent of identifying best practices, marketing gaps, areas for improvement, etc. -- so that we can develop a strategic plan for how to enter and hopefully advance the industry. The vision is to not only present productivity recommendations, but more specifically to suggest (and eventually implement) a business model in which farmers can work together to increase and optimize the post harvest marketing/selling of their yield.

As the lead consultant on this proposal effort, I have spent my first few weeks pursuing conversations with numerous industry players and diving into as many reports, publications, news clippings and thought leadership pieces as possible. While this has certainly proven to be a huge undertaking, and there is undoubtedly an overwhelming amount of work ahead, the potential impact is nothing short of life changing and sadly long overdue.

In spite (or perhaps as a result) of the heightened sense of urgency and responsibility, it's very inspiring to be a part of a project with so much potential, and I'm eager to continue to share our progress as we stumble forward.


  1. son,
    i am so excited and pumped for the work you are doing. i'm on my knees weeping at Kenya's loss thus far, but rejoicing at what looks to be a better future. I'm so proud to know someone whose doing what you're doing.
    God is bigger than the air i breathe, the world we'll leave. God will save the day and all will say, my glorious, my glorious!

  2. son,
    I thought maybe I had written the first comment and just couldn't remember writing my thoughts so well. Quess my other son beat me to it - We are very excited to hear of the work you are doing. Be deligent, God is on your side! Love, mom

  3. Thanks Mom! I don't think Blake is trying to take over your role, just adopting some NY vernacular :)

    Thanks for all your encouragement!