Monday, 16 February 2015

How inclusive is the agricultural sector in Kenya?

Photo Credit: Flickr
Ever wondered how persons with hearing impairment make it through most of the church sessions which mostly are speech dominated?Well,these thoughts had never crossed my mind until a few weeks ago when i happened to attend a Mid morning Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Adams  I was taken aback by the presence of interpreters serving a congregation of close to 50 persons who had hearing impairment. 
Truth be told, this was the first time it hit me so hard of how many of the activities we do on daily basis that aren’t inclusive with the overall assumption that everyone is like us; that they can hear, they can see, they can walk and they can access most of the public facilities. until something distorts your thinking. 

The Persons With Disabilities Disparity
 According to Wikipedia, Disability refers to " the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these. A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime." The 2009 census indicated that there were  1,330,312 persons with disabilities in Kenya. But the big question is, how inclusive have we been in mainstreaming PWDs in our day to day activities? Take for instance,the recently released  Public Service Appointments Evaluation Report 2014, by Public Service Commission which revealed that only 1 percent of the persons with disability were employed against the 5% threshold the Kenyan Constitution mandates under Article 54  .In terms of figures, the 1% would translate to 1,082 in a population of 106, 724 employees. 

Article 54  Persons with disabilities
(1) A person with any disability is entitled
(a) to be treated with dignity and respect and to be addressed and referred to in a manner that is not demeaning;
(b) to access educational institutions and facilities for persons with disabilities that are integrated into society to the extent compatible with the interests of the person;
(c) to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information;
(d) to use Sign language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication; and
(e) to access materials and devices to overcome constraints arising from the person's disability.
(2) The State ensures the progressive implementation of the principle that at least five percent of the members of the public in elective and appointive bodies are persons with disabilities.

Given that the PWDs makes 3.5% of the total population in Kenya, this in essence indicates that there is a considerable number of PWDs in the agricultural arena leading to the questioning on how inclusive in the Agricultural sector?

The State of Inclusiveness in Agriculture
I have been involved in a lot of agricultural field activities but never did it occur that we should be inclusive. As i look back now, i realize more of the activities were geared towards the abled persons with no inclusion for the PWDs and overtime, i have started questioning myself on the status of inclusion in agricultural activities. For instance have a look at your offices. Which floor are they in? How steep are the staircases? Do you have a ramp? Can your door allow for access to someone with a wheelchair? If not on the ground floor, do you have a lift to help access it in case you hold meetings? Do you have in place temporary measures to ensure if the situation arises you can cope well with it?

 On packaging and dissemination of agricultural information,how inclusive is your dispatch of information materials? Is it mindful for they who are visually impaired? For the agricultural television programmes, do you have interpreters for you shows to ensure that they with hearing impairment can access the same information? 

On vacancy announcements in the local dailies and job searching sites, how inclusive are they? When designing these adverts, do we keep in mind persons with visual impairments and how they might access the same?

 ICTs and agri-tech seems to be the new like. When designing new technologies, do we keep in mind the how the same technology might be  to people with disabilities for ease in their adoption or do we just assume they will be applicable in a whole stretch of persons? 

On extension services delivery, do we factor in PWDs or just go on with the demand driven approach to offering extension services? Do we provide the provision of the same in our policy documents? Its interesting to see even the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy document hasn’t incorporated any of the same. 

The Way Forward
Not all is lost as some initiatives like National Farmers Awards Scheme are warming up to the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities. 

Do you know of any other projects/ initiative that are promoting inclusion in the agricultural sector? Share their details in the comment section below.

 See a  video by Sean Progue filmed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on mission Sunday 2011.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The making of a digital story; One woman's journey

Its a hot Monday afternoon. Am seated at the German Embassy lobby. Time seems to be dragging away so slowly.Once in while i start a conversation with the people gathered there, mostly  Kenyans and Germans.We are all waiting for the clock to tick 2.30 p.m so that we can  be ushered in for our visa applications. Normally,this is the day reserved for frequent travelers to submit their applications. Am lucky to be one of them as i had two weeks ago mistaken my application date to be on a Thursday whilst i had an appointment  for Tuesday. My turn comes but alas, my original invitation letter is still missing, and in place of it, i have a scanned email copy. Needless to say, my application is rejected on grounds of lacking documentation.

Photo Credit: Enockson, Flickr

Back to the office i go. I correspondence with Sepideh, the awesome lady who on behalf of DW Media services had invited me, and 7 others, for a Digital Storytelling workshop in Bonn. After getting the tracking number for the invitation letters from her, i realize the letter was still lying at the GPO post office, a month after it was sent. Checking with GPO, i realize the letter is in City Square and i receive it just in time for their office closure time.( The innings of the post office is a story for another day) 
A screenshot of the status of my letter a month after it was sent

I have all the documents needed for my application and as such, i present them on Monday  which happens to be a week before my scheduled travel.
"One week is quite a lot of time " says one of the applicant's i remember from the last appointment. I believe her.

 My turn comes and after  presenting my documents, the lady at the counter, feels that even after giving all my work details, i need someone at my office to certify am working, a signature or something of the sort. Am distraught! So much time is being lost in this my application and this has to be the first time so much is being asked from me.I stare at her wondering, half mad half suppressing  laughter. I heartily laugh in such situations. She changes her mind and accepts my application on condition i bring the letter in the course of the day. I frankly tell her i can't as i have two high profile events to attend and after too many negotiations, we settle on my colleague submitting it on Thursday morning as i had some scheduled work commitments to catch up on.

That's not it all. Its Wednesday, the day am supposed to travels and still i have no visa. Between coordinating an M&E reporting workshop, and after many a calls to the Embassy, i get my visa at 6.00 p.m and with my flight departure set for 2.00 a.m, it becomes a mad rush to pack,wind up pending office work and be at the airport in time. Thanks goodness, everything goes as planned and in not time, i feel welcomed to Bonn as i walk to my hotel
A caption on Bonn west train station of two people doing what i love most
26th June 2014; Meeting the Team in Bonn

While having breakfast, am approached by two very friendly people, asking me if  am part of the DST workshop, which i respond in the affirmative. I excuse myself from my newly found friend from Cologne who had come to Bonn for work reasons and grateful to have meet her and liked her in such a short time.Slowly i dissolve to a whole new set of people whose names i forgot as soon as the introductions ended :) Anyways, with time the names stuck in my head; as thus
Trainers (Guido Kowalski- Germany , Sarlote Berke- Hungary,  Annette Scheinder- Germany. She doubled up as a head counter to ensure no one got lost  :) 
Participants (Burak Sayin from Turkey;Thalia Rahme from Lebanon;Olek shykarenko from Ukraine;Azza Kamel from Egypt; May Thandar  from Mynamar;Ha Ann from Vietnam;Roy Thaniango from Indonesia and Emmie Kio from Kenya)

Back row: L-R Guido, Burak, Oleg, Roy, Annette
Front Row: L-R  Sarlote, Emmie, Azza, Ha, May, Thalia

To kick the session off, Guido gave us an overview of what digital storytelling is all about and if i am to borrow the description from Wikipedia, then its " a short form of digital media production that allows everyday people to share aspects of their life story" .It  can be in form of personal stories, stories that instruct or stories retelling  historical events. Ideally, these stories are 2-3 minutes long with a range of 200 -300 words. Among the early  pioneers credited with the development of DST include Dana Atchley, Ken Burns and Joe Lambert.  Watch an earlier video by Dana Atchley  Home Movies courtesy of  Center for Digital Storytelling . 

The process of creating a digital story

Creating a story begins with the story circle. Basically you come up with a story, it could be triggered by an object you see, that reminds you of something that happened in the past that was really significant in your life. From this, you write a script of the story in question. While doing so, try to constantly have your audience in mind, for whom the story is intended for. We did this by writing postcards to ourselves regarding a greater decision we all had made in the last 5 years.

One of the DW Akademie Studio
From there on, you do a voice over of the script you have written. Here is where pacing and good intonation comes into play. We did the recording in one of the many DW Akademie studios and fortunately, for most of us it was the first time we were recording . Later on,
with the use of the Sony Movie Studio Platinum 13, we edited the pieces of our audio tracks so as to complete the story

Then came the selection of  photos that match with the story you have just developed and strategic placing of photos where the soundtrack is. For some of the team members, they were able to add music to their stories. Due to copyright issues, its advisable to use your own photos and in case you don't have any, you could use photos that have permission for re-use. Creative Commons on Flickr is quite a good source of copyright re-usable photos and Jamedo (for royalty free music)

After quite some back and forth for three days, at around 7.30 p.m we all had our first digital stories ready and despite the fact we forgot to buy some popcorns, we switched the lights off and enjoyed watching our own films.And it felt soooo good :)  You too can switch the lights off, grab some popcorns and enjoy our first time productions HERE

And oooh before i forget, this the digital story i produced  during the workshop,  how many points would you rate it given i was a first timer ? :)

The GMF workshop sessions

It doesn't end there. As part of the Global Media Forum 2014, Guido, Sarlota and Priya were the facilitators of the session see you in the future, new ways of digital storytelling. They were introducing the various aspects of digital stories as entails the how to create stories,where the stories are being applied to, and the softwares to use. More information on the same can be found on this link

Here is the Storify collection for the day one and two workshop sessions as curated by the Grimme Institut
See you in the future. New ways of digital storytelling
Participatory Story; be a part of it

On the second day, participants were invited to take part in the digital storytelling workshop Participatory Story, be a part of it. This is how it went down

In the end, they produced their own digital story featuring Sepideh and  some of the workshop participants. See the digital story that shows a short history of the Global Media Forum

And finally, you can listen to the Soundtrack for the Participatory Story; be a part of it workshop session on soundcloud.

Huh! That was a lengthy blogpost, wasn't it ?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Why GMOs Aren’t Like Smartphones......

Photo courtesy :  Steve Rhodes, Flickr
We all know that science is hard. Mastery of any new technology is the result of thousands of failures. If we didn’t try and fail so many times, we wouldn’t have things like smartphones, cars, or the Internet.
I used to make the same argument in favor of Genetically Modified Organisms. They were just another technology that we should strive to perfect. We’d work through the bumps and eventually create an abundance of healthy food for all. But I was wrong.
Life isn’t like cellphones, cars, and microchips. Life spreads. Mistakes can permanently pollute and endanger the world’s food supply. Sadly, this is not future speculation. It’s history.
BT Corn
When my kids were born, I started reading more about the food they were eating. I’d always assumed that GMO foods were simply hardier versions of the same crops we grew up with. I was surprised to learn this wasn’t exactly true.
Due to the actions of a company called Monsanto, the majority of the world’s corn now produces it’s own pesticide: BT delta endotoxin.When a pest eats the corn,the pesticide dissolves the walls of their stomach. Here’s how it works:
“Within minutes, the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicaemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.”
From University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture
Lovely. This kills the pests, but there’s one small problem. When we eat the corn, we ingest this same toxin. Unlike conventional pesticides, you can’t wash it off. In a Quebec study, BT toxin was detected in the bloodstream of 67% of the population tested. For pregnant women, this number was much higher: 90%.
OK, so we have some BT toxin in our blood. What’s the big deal?

Connecting the Dots

A recent study by Norwegian professor Åshild Krogdahl compared two groups of animals: one fed GM corn, the other non-GM corn.
After 90 days, the animals fed the GM corn had put on more weight, and had changes in their immune system. The same effect occurred if the animals were fed meat raised on GM corn.
“the ones who had fed on GM corn were slightly larger, they ate slightly more, their intestines had a different microstructure, they were less able to digest proteins, and there were some changes to their immune system. Blood samples also showed some change in the blood.”
“If the same effect applies to humans, how would it impact on people eating this type of corn over a number of years, or even eating meat from animals feeding on this corn? I don’t wish to sound alarmist, but it is an interesting phenomenon and worth exploring further.”
– Dr. Åshild Krogdahl
There are two rising trends in America: childhood obesity and childhood allergies. Let’s take a look at obesity. The purple hockey stick is the US.
Correlation doesn’t equal causation, so we don’t know if BT corn is to blame. However, the timelines do match up: BT corn started gaining steam in the late 90's. This is when childhood obesity in the US kicked into overdrive.

Food Allergies

Alongside an increase in childhood obesity, we’re also seeing more children developing food allergies. From 1997 to 2007, the number of children with food allergies rose 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food allergies happen when the immune system mislabels food as an invader. The most common invaders are bacteria. How does this mislabeling happen? Why is it happening more now than previously? Scientists aren’t sure.
But let’s apply a little common sense. What happens if you put bacteria genes into a plant? Isn’t it possible that the immune system might start to get confused about what’s food and what’s bacteria?
We now run this risk. Let’s look at where the extra genes in BT corn come from. They come from a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, which grows naturally in the soil. If you don’t wash your produce, you might ingest some of this bacteria. This is nothing to worry about. Your immune system has thousands of years of practice of fighting this kind of bacteria. And that’s part of the problem.
Let’s say you eat some BT corn. As it dissolves in your stomach, it will begin to release BT delta endotoxin. Your immune system, trained by evolution to kill the oh-so-common BT bacteria, has a choice to make. Does it let this slide? Or does it assume it’s dealing with an invader and fight back?

How Do We Know?

Studies follow dollars. In this case, the dollars are on the side of GMO producers. Even if the money is there, we don’t yet have the technology to fully measure and understand the effects of GMO foods on our bodies and environment.
Right now, we’re flying blind. This won’t always be true. One day, we will have the computing power to simulate all possible interactions. We’ll be able to tweak a line of a plant’s genetic code, fast forward 20 years in a few seconds, and see the impact on our bodies and environment.
Today, our simulator is the real world. We are unleashing genetic experiments that can spread and replace native species shaped by millions of years of co-evolution. By the time we understand the results of these experiments, we’ll be stuck with them.
Once again, this isn’t speculation. It’s happening right now.

A One Way Trip

Want to stop eating BT corn? That’s surprisingly difficult to do.
If you buy non-organic corn in the US, it’s almost guaranteed to be BT corn. Corn starch is a common ingredient in snack foods. BT corn is also the main ingredient in most livestock diets.
So, what about good old regular corn? Can’t you get it anymore?
Your only option is to buy organic corn, but that’s getting harder and more expensive to find. Why? Because life spreads, and non-GM corn is becoming an endangered species.
Cross-pollination of conventional fields by GMO strains has become so widespread it is difficult to produce “pure” seeds that are not contaminated.
“It’s become harder and harder for farmers to even find conventional seeds. The big players bought up conventional seed companies and the university public sector breeders which used to produce most of the seeds that farmers used have seen their funding reduced.”
– Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety

Bugs Evolve Faster Than We Do

What is our reward for having nearly wiped out a native life form on our planet? A few corporations made the kind of green that matters most to them. And for a few years, farmers didn’t have to make creative use of ladybugs, decoy crops, and other organic tricks.
But now, the bugs are back. They’ve evolved, and Monstanto has already secured approval for their next salvo in the war: a new corn called SmartStax that contains additional BT genes.
This is a war we can’t win. The reason is simple. Insects have a new generation every season. This means they evolve faster than we do. We can poison the well for both of us. They’ll adapt, and we won’t.

Feeding the World

So how will we feed the world? Let’s start by debunking a myth. Our world’s hunger problem is a social and logistical issue, not a scientific one. Time-tested farming technologies can provide the food that we need.
At the University of California-Davis, agricultural scientist Bill Liebhardt reviewed 154 growing seasons worth of data. The data revealed that organic corn yields were 94 percent of conventional yields, organic wheat yields were 97 percent, and organic soybean yields were 94 percent. Organic tomatoes showed no yield difference.
Based on Dr. Liebhardt’s research, BT corn is gaining us only a 6% improvement in yield. In poorer countries with drier climates, the gap disappeared completely. Organic farms were found to be more efficient.
A seven-year study from Maikaal District in central India involving 1,000 farmers cultivating 3,200 hectares found that average yields for cotton, wheat, chili, and soy were as much as 20 percent higher on the organic farms than on nearby conventionally managed ones. Farmers and agricultural scientists attributed the higher yields in this dry region to the emphasis on cover crops, compost, manure, and other practices that increased organic matter (which helps retain water) in the soils.
– Worldwatch Institute
Organic farming focuses on redirecting the pests to decoy crops, where they are kept small in number by natural predators. By focusing our dollars on studying natural ecosystems, we can use them to our advantage, instead of replacing them. This is a safer and faster way to make progress.

A Safe Alternative

Monsanto created BT corn to deal with the European corn borer. It turns out that this pest has natural predators, and innovative farmers are starting to catch on.
After suffering economic losses from BT corn, farmers in the Philippines discovered a natural way to combat the corn borer: a nano-wasp called Trichogramma. Measuring at 0.18mm, Trichogramma are so small that you can’t actually see them. They destroy the eggs of European corn borers.
The low cost, availability, efficiency and significant reduction of chemical inputs have made Trichogramma an extremely attractive option for farmers. Farmers that have shifted to Trichogramma say they have stopped using chemicals altogether because they have seen its effectiveness in controlling corn borer populations.
These have contributed to the success rate of the program which has effectively reduced the occurrence of corn borer by 80-85% in the province of Isabela.
Greenpeace Report, 2005
Farmers have solved the problem by re-introducing a missing predator and fixing an incomplete ecosystem. This solution is cheap, safe, and tested by millions of years of evolution.
Cornell University has released a guide which can help farmers get started. Everybody wins, except for a few corporations who’d like to insert themselves in the middle, and profit from every bite we eat.

The Moral

Science is all about making mistakes and learning from them. I believe the lesson of BT corn is simple: we need to turn back before it’s too late.
Reblogged from