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Local Knowledge is Crucial for Crisis Preparedness

7 min read.

Over the last 20 years, the accuracy of early warning information has improved, at least for short-term predictions, but the main challenge has been reaching local communities.



Local Knowledge is Crucial for Crisis Preparedness

Eastern Africa has been grappling with multiple humanitarian crises exacerbated by climate-induced drought emergencies, disease outbreaks, floods and social instability due to civil conflict and the prolonged effect of 2019 locust plagues and the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2017 and 2023, the population needing humanitarian assistance in parts of Eastern Africa rose from 22.5 million to 68 million and, as reported in the financial tracking systems of the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affair- UN-OCHA, the cost of humanitarian assistance doubled from US$4.1 billion to US$9.4 billion.

Of the crises besetting the region, severe drought is the most significant humanitarian emergency, especially for rural communities, as livelihoods primarily depend on animal husbandry and farming. Over the past 40 years, the region has experienced severe droughts: in 1976-1978, 1985-1988, 2010-2011, 2016-2017 and 2020-2022. Due to these crises, there has been significant interest in early warning systems and anticipatory planning in development and humanitarian contexts.

In particular, following the 1985 famine that resulted from severe drought and production failure, huge investments in early warning, preparedness and response were made. For example, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) created FEWSNET—Famine Early Warning System Network—an agency for evidence-based early warning information. FEWSNET’s primary focus is to provide scientific information on acute food insecurity, agro-climatic conditions and drought early warning to governments, international relief agencies, scientists, and NGOs, among others, for actionable response in preventing drought and famine emergencies. Equally, Eastern African states established ICPAC, initially known as the IGAD Drought Monitoring Centre in Nairobi (IDMC-N). ICPAC is the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) regional climate centre of excellence. These agencies, together with others, work closely with government meteorological departments at the regional, national and local level to provide timely early warning information for preparedness, contingency planning and early action.

Over the last 20 years, the accuracy of  early warning information has improved, at least for short-term predictions, but the main challenge has been reaching local communities—what some call the “last mile”. The result is that early warning information often does not reach where it is most needed. Despite all the talk of early warning, disaster risk reduction, shock-responsive systems, contingency planning and anticipatory action, the end results are mixed to say the least. We need to ask, how can these big investments in early warning be linked to local approaches to prediction and response?

Predicting droughts and communicating the predictions through risk reports and early warning bulletins is now standard practice. In Kenya, the impressive National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), a government outfit based in 23 Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) counties, was established in 2011 with significant donor support. It produces monthly bulletins stacked with information derived from earth observations by satellites as well as surveys of key vulnerability indicators (household food consumption, market prices for livestock, food, water, livestock body condition, vegetation, status etc.) collected across each region. These bulletins are shared with the county government, the array of NGOs working in each area, and local communities.

Despite the deluge of high-quality information, the gap between early warning (which is increasingly accurate, at least for the short-term) and action on the ground is enormous. This has been a perennial problem. There are issues of trust (why should I believe the government?), inertia (surely if I wait a bit, then things will get better) and communication styles (a dozen pages in English rather than vernacular and visual versions, although this is apparently going to change). Moreover, those working on the ground know that there’s a drought right now (livestock is dying in numbers, there is no grass and water), so they don’t need information that the situation is dire. As one frustrated NDMA officer observed, “With early warnings you are telling them what they already see. We are ambassadors for what they already know!”

Deliberating on uncertainties: the need for local debate

The big problem with such information systems is that they are usually one-way: we have the information, you should listen and act. There is no space for dialogue, deliberation and debate. There are always uncertainties: Does this really apply here? Why wasn’t the drought predicted correctly last time? Is this information relevant to me right now? The assumption of specialised expertise filling a “deficit” in local knowledge and understanding has long prevailed in debates about science-policy interactions; it applies as much to early warning and drought alert information in pastoral drylands.

Despite the deluge of high-quality information, the gap between early warning and action on the ground is enormous.

This gap was recognised by a number of agencies that came together to design the Community-Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) approach, based on a participatory diagnosis of problems and joint construction of solutions. While the CMDRR committees are aimed at producing development and contingency plans that can then articulate with funding programmes from the government and NGOs, the most essential part of these committees is the process.

Meeting monthly and composed of a group of locally selected “experts”, they draw on local experience and knowledge and discuss impending or unfolding crises. This may be drought, but also conflict, animal disease or other challenges facing them, right there in their own context. This deliberation is crucial as diverse views are shared, dispute and contestation are possible, and in this way, uncertainties (for they are always there) are addressed.

For example, in one village some way off the main road near Moyale, we met the chair of the local committee who explained its functioning. There are 23 members, 15 men and 8 women. The roles are voluntary although they have been supported—now over nine years—by a local NGO. The membership includes elders with long, historical experience of past crises and how these were addressed, and several people with specialist expertise.

The assumption of specialised expertise filling a “deficit” in local knowledge and understanding has long prevailed in debates about science-policy interactions.

Among these local experts is a man who is an expert in treating sick and injured animals (specialised in local techniques for bone-setting). His knowledge is sought by community members when animals become sick in “normal” times, but when a particular disease spreads dramatically, he is a crucial point of contact. With veterinary officers few and far between, he must link with those selling drugs, but also those with knowledge (as he has) of traditional herbs and treatments. The local “disease reporters” pass information upwards to their superiors, but their local knowledge is also crucial in understanding disease at a local level. Connecting these networks is crucial in responding to a crisis, as described for North Horr, also in Marsabit county. The CMDRR is thus a vital platform for integrating and sharing this knowledge.

Local early warning: the role of community-based prediction and response

In addition to those with expertise in particular facets of crisis response, there are others who act as the local early warning system; they claim that they never make use of the NDMA bulletins but have their own system. This is perhaps not surprising: there is no phone network in the village, and they are not provided with data bundles to download the documents with all their graphs and tables. Instead, they make use of locals who are experts in predicting droughts and other crises.

Two such experts are members of the committee. One woman recently inherited the role of Uchu from her mother, expert reader of animals’ intestines. Her mother was renowned throughout the area as someone who could accurately predict what will happen by inspecting the intestines of a recently slaughtered goat, cow or bull. They must be animals that have been born and raised in the area and ideally are young calves or kids. Usually, the intestines of animals slaughtered for weddings, funerals or naming ceremonies are used by such experts. If the signs are unclear, the process is repeated with a newly slaughtered animal of the right type. Those who read the signs are offered a fried portion of the liver. Once eaten the predictions are made, and people discuss. Sometimes there are conflicting versions from different people, and further deliberations have to be made. Even in the indigenous science of making predictions using animal intestines, there are uncertainties.

Although intestine readers can divine the future across a range of hazards, others may be referred to. Some throw shoes to see what the future might bring, while others gaze at the stars. These indigenous astronomers are especially well regarded. In the same village where we conducted our interviews, an interpreter of the patterns of the stars was also present. People view the local astronomer as especially good at predicting future climate events, usually over a more extended period than those who read from the intestines of slaughtered animals.

Even in the indigenous science of making predictions using animal intestines, there are uncertainties.

Of course, predictions only happen at a certain point in time, and in relation to a certain set of questions that community members pose. But droughts, conflicts, disease outbreaks and so on unfold over time in uncertain ways. This is why predictions must be repeated, and adaptations and responses to these must be continuous, part of a process. Combining multiple knowledge is essential, along with discussions around uncertainties, if a humanitarian crisis is to be contained based on early warning information.

Closing the early warning gap 

The problem with the centralised early warning systems, and the whole paraphernalia of reporting that follows, is that they too often do not reach the “last mile”—the affected communities. This is where the early warning’s “missing  link” has long been identified. Often distrusted and perceived as alien to local contextual knowledge, recommendations are frequently rejected.

This is why the NDMA in Moyale has, with the encouragement of a local NGO, started to work with local early warning specialists in workshops where external, “scientific” information is shared at the local level and debated alongside the local interpretations and predictions. In Moyale sub-county the NDMA has invited traditional forecasters from across the region, including different ethnic groups. At a workshop, they slaughter a goat, and each individual inspects the intestines. After completing their inspections, they share the results and compare them with the ICPAC and Meteorological Department forecasts.

Often distrusted and perceived as alien to local contextual knowledge, recommendations are frequently rejected.

As the local NDMA officer explained, despite debate about the specifics, there was remarkable convergence between the different views. Building trust with local communities through using local knowledge in tandem with external, “scientific” sources is seen as an important route to communication, with community radio programmes planned where the results can be discussed.

And yet, the huge investments in early warning systems using the very best satellite technologies and highly sophisticated interpretation techniques often assume a linear transformation of information, from those who know and those who don’t. But this ignores the fact that local pastoralists are well practised in predicting and responding to drought. In the end, the fancy technological solutions are no match for the local deliberations on the ground about uncertain futures using multiple sources of knowledge.

No-one expects these predictions to be correct all of the time—whether local or external—but it’s the deliberation around uncertainties that ensues following a prediction that is important in shaping local responses. Effective responses always have to be embedded in local contexts, drawing on local knowledge and social relations, and this is why too often external interventions around “resilience” fail and why alternatives are needed.

This is article is adapted from the second of a series of three blogs written as part of a scoping study and supported by ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research). 


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Tahira Mohamed is a doctoral researcher at Sussex University. Her research examines how pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya evolve community safety nets and moral economies in response to livelihood uncertainties.


Carey Francis and the Decolonial Question in Kenya

When we limit politics to personal morality and ethnicity, we have no space for context, or conversation. But that instinct of educated Kenyans to narrow the space for conversation makes sense when we look at the life of Carey Francis.



Carey Francis and the Decolonial Question in Kenya

A child who went to school beginning in the 1970s, like I did, was fed on a steady dose of “the white man stole our African cultures” as a slogan for explaining all of Kenya’s socio-economic problems. And if one pursued literature as a subject, that slogan was repeated to the point of becoming shrill. At least that’s how I see it today. Back then, as a child, I treated it as the gospel truth and I carried it with me through all my student life, up to my doctoral studies. After all, many of the gurus of decolonial thought are Kenyan, with the classic text on decolonizing the mind being written by a Kenyan. There is no way one could get away with not quoting them, especially not in literature.

But once I was employed as an academic, the decolonial trope would not work, despite my best efforts. The Kenyan education and elite space is a suffocating animal that I had not reckoned with as a student. While I was a student, it was easier to get away with thinking outside the box. Easier, because I was still bullied, beaten and called a rebel (my self-esteem suffered greatly as a result), but I passed exams decently enough, and I would go home to be fed by my parents. My parents, however, suffered ostracization, job loss, and public humiliation for doing the same thing which I was imitating them in doing.

Now that I was employed, I had to walk the same tight rope that they did. That is when I discovered that raising the question of decolonization was not as straightforward as it looked like in the classroom. After all, even the scholars who raised it in the 1970s and 1980s were persecuted by the government and ended up in exile. However, what was left behind was a very strange phenomenon. Decolonization would be constantly cited in academic work, students would talk of colonial mentality even when discussing texts produced as recently as five years ago. But at the same time, there would be no innovation, no thinking about concrete issues, and sad to say, a huge emphasis on guilt and shame.

One instance that I’ve often cited was a conference on the state and identity that was hosted by the Samosa Festival. One interest of the Samosa Festival is to interact with the histories of Kenyan communities that face serious obstacles from the Kenyan state in terms of citizenship. Because African collective identities are locked in tribes, a phenomenon that Mahmood Mamdani explains in Citizen and Subject, tribe is the only political identity which the Kenya state recognizes. Therefore, communities which migrated to Kenya two or three centuries ago, or which live along Kenya’s borders, like the Makonde, Asians, Somalis and Nubians, are subjected to harrowing processes of obtaining identification documents and passports. And that is when they are successful.

The histories of such communities are not part of the mainstream Kenyan national memory. For example, little is known in the Kenyan public memory about workers’ movements during the colonial period, because many of their leaders were Indians who brought an international consciousness to the workers’ and freedom struggles. Yet these workers’ struggles scared the British and the Americans so much that the two governments worked hard to ensure that the radical, anti-colonial worker consciousness was kept at bay.

This was the issue for discussion, or so I thought. Instead, it became yet another session of delving into the riches of our pre-colonial past and shaming the younger generation for not knowing it, without talking about where they would learn it. The conversation got so exasperating that at one point a few of us wondered whether it was possible to have a conversation about Kenyan life without talking about ethnicity. What about other aspects of our identity? We asked. The response I got still makes me shudder.

Someone went through a list of different towns in Kenya, asking me which ones I had visited. I was then informed that people in Nairobi don’t care about ethnicity because they do not know their ethnic identity. I was being shamed into silence with an underhand suggestion that I had no right to speak because I was not African enough.

I refused to back down. I said that the conference was called to talk about the problem of Kenyans whose identity is questioned by the state, who cannot get identity cards, which means they cannot go to school, and as adults, cannot buy property, open a bank account, even get a death certificate for their parents, and here we were, talking about dances, funerals and weddings before colonial times. My friend Adam Hussein, whom I later wrote about in my account of that conference, and who has since passed on, was a great rugby player who qualified for the Kenya national team, but he could not play because he was denied a passport. Later, employers in Kenya would not touch him because he was Nubian. But when he got a job abroad, he could not travel to work without a passport. In other words, he was not wanted in Kenya, but he was not allowed to get out of Kenya. We were here to talk about such problems with identities, and now I was being asked for my travel itinerary as an individual.

I was being shamed into silence with an underhand suggestion that I had no right to speak because I was not African enough.

That has been the frustrating career of decolonizing in Kenya. It has been moralistic, messianic, and individualist and yet unable to address daily Kenyan life. I know of students who have been shamed in class by lecturers claiming that the students are not African or Kenyan enough, while at the same time being given assignments requiring them to discuss the benefits of colonialism. The recently instituted Competency-Based Curriculum is based on the racist ideology of settlers that Africans do not need knowledge, only technical skills. CBC also has a “parental involvement” component that directly draws from family values of US evangelicalism.

None of these problems seem to bother educated Kenyans. For scholars, we will decolonize if this racism is taught in African languages. I have even seen others say that TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) is decolonizing pedagogy. And the same people who thought parental involvement was fun for their own kids, are now ranting about politicians and evangelical churches.

How do we arrive at this spectacular dissonance? In my view, this absurdity is exemplified by one man: Carey Francis.

An honourable man

Edward Carey Francis was the foremost educator in Kenya. He studied mathematics at Cambridge where he later became a fellow. At some point he served in the British army. He then came as a missionary to Kenya, and eventually became well known for his work in two elite schools in Kenya: Maseno in Kisumu, and Alliance in Kikuyu.

The strange thing about Carey Francis is that he embodied major contradictions. He was devoted to wrong ideas, but he was also an honest man. He was committed to the British Empire and believed that Christianity and British civilization were the way forward for Africa, but he was also blind to the reality that colonialism was destined to be violent. He was so idealistic that he criticized the colonial government for its atrocities and the settlers for their racist attitudes towards Africans. He frowned on his former students joining politics because he felt that politics was a deviation from their more noble calling of teaching and service.

The man’s ideas were deeply flawed, but the wide range of his graduates all had one good thing to say about him: he was sincere and devoted to his students.

The man’s ideas were deeply flawed, but the wide range of his graduates all had one good thing to say about him: he was sincere and devoted to his students. In a biography written by LB Grieves, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga wrote a preface in which he called Francis “a moralist – almost too strict a moralist” who was “only slightly concerned that his model African Christian would never be quite equal to the European Christian”. He praises Francis for being devoted, dedicated to teaching, and showing genuine concern for his students, observing that,

In a newly independent country like Kenya, there are many people who suddenly find themselves in positions of power and influence. In the present materialistic world, temptations to use these positions for personal gain are bound to be great, as morality, honesty and other virtues become blurred. Under these conditions, it needs strong personal conviction and integrity to resist. I am satisfied that although some of those who went through the hands of Carey Francis at school have become victims of such temptations, there are nevertheless many more who have successfully maintained the trust bestowed on them by the Kenya public and who are helping to lay down the foundation of an honest public service for the country.

Duncan Ndegwa, who became the governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, wrote in his eulogy that Francis “was the first European who called me an ‘ass,’ kindly.” He added that Francis

“Was a man whose great intellectual talents were supported by an intense personal faith – a kind of moral rectitude which saw life in simple terms of individual good and evil.

He left his pupils in no doubt of what kind of persons he wanted them to be. This element of paternalism in his approach was perhaps at fault. But the transparent honesty which illuminated all his relationships and the strictness which he applied equally to himself and to others, greatly mitigated such weakness as there may have been.

An individualist himself, he saw his purpose in life to work through individuals. An essentially simple man, he never understood that large organizations also have motivations, dynamics and momentums of their own quite apart from those of individuals.”

Benjamin Kipkorir, the Kenyan historian who did major work on analysing Kenya’s educated elite, and who was also an alumnus of Alliance and Cambridge, had this to say:

Francis was in every sense a great man. The tributes that have been paid to him are legion. Here, it seems to me, lies his greatness. He was “called” to service. No serious historian, no matter how agnostic, can scoff at such a reason.

As an educationist, Francis espoused the elitist approach. He was opposed to mass education – “casting pearls before swine.” He advocated the Colonial office tree-structure approach by which quality literary education was given to a few who in turn should go out to educate the many.

One side of Francis’ character which must be stressed was his ruthlessness. In everything he did, he was thorough. In tackling things he believed to be wrong, and therefore evil, Francis was thoroughly ruthless.

Francis, the missionary, first rate teacher of Africans, bitter and effective critic of government wrongs against Africans, failed to acknowledge that the only solution to African problems was political action. With Mau Mau he was able to have a deeper insight of the African plight. He was thus able to marginally modify, in private, his earlier hostility to politics. But overall, his pronouncements, delivered with his forceful teaching (…) had the effect of preventing many of his better pupils from ever venturing into politics.

From these snippets of his former students, many of whom became major government and political actors in Kenya, we see a conundrum. One, is Francis’s hatred for politics, and two, is Francis’s individual morality. Ndegwa explicitly names the problem here: individualism. What Francis embodied is the rather naïve belief, which he was able to implement as a European pioneer missionary, that individual morality and honesty were enough of a foundation for society. This promise is articulated by Jaramogi in his hope for an “honest civil service” that uses individual morality to avoid exploiting Kenyans.

What is wrong with this picture? Kipkorir and Ndegwa have named it, Carey Francis was anti-political. And to use Lewis Gordon’s formulation of the term, Francis was acting in bad faith. Francis thought that social problems could be solved by individual morality and was blind to the unique dynamics of societies and institutions, and their impact on individual behaviour. This lack of social consciousness was also combined with elitism, the belief that only a few individuals were enough, and deserving enough, to change society.

What Francis embodied is the rather naïve belief that individual morality and honesty were enough of a foundation for society.

So these themes emerge from Francis’s career: individualism, universalism, an aversion to politics, and the ability to hold individual views that contradict one’s social context – the very characteristics of decolonization in the experiences I began with. Decolonization discourse in Kenya is highly moralistic, and it is used to judge people’s individual credentials to qualify as African. It eschews the discussion of social and contemporary issues, which is the substance of politics.

And as I indicated, decolonization in Kenya encourages guilt and shame for being a victim of colonialism. This guilt and shame is now being used to push women to seek genital mutilation to pay a debt to their ancestors. Meanwhile, major social issues, like the geographical spaces still bearing European names, the export of Kenyan workers to countries abroad (to the extent of Kenyans being blamed for the injuries they suffer from rogue employers), the dominance of education policies from the west, the discrimination against Kenyans within their own country and the rampant economic inequality; all these take a back seat in comparison to personal redemption through the return to a pre-colonial past.

Euro-Christian Protestantism

Anyone who knows Christian Protestantism can see the same tropes here: African culture is presented as a redemption to individuals who have erred by being colonized, and which they can obtain through personal conversion such as reverse baptism (dropping European names) and literally crucifying (especially the woman’s) body.

In governance, the same epistemic foundation is expressed through a naïve belief that one’s morality is the sole measure of politics. Honesty is the measure of good public service, hence the current overarching political conversation is that the current president is a liar. If one raises the question of whether lying is a category with which to assess a wide range of political issues, the reply, again, is personal: it’s your ethnic group, it’s how you voted (never mind that ballots are secret), and you need to provide a solution to a problem that is not named. And although this moralism is highly Christian, it is common to professing Christians and secularists alike.

Carey Francis embodied the Euro-Christian liberalism that undergirds governance and politics in Kenya through the education system. Francis was moral and honest at the individual level, at the universal level, he believed in the British Empire. In between, he had little to say about the self-determination of African peoples. After independence, this dynamic became moral and ethnic at the individual level, and anti-colonial at the universal level, with little to say about racist policies and inequality in healthcare, education, employment and environment. Ali Mazrui, Kenya’s foremost liberal intellectual, articulated the problem of Western education when he noted that Western education is committed “to both individualism and universalism . . . what is missing is the intermediate category of the particular society in which the scholar operates”. And this problem is specific to the educated middle class, for as JF Ade Ajayi has explained, the missionaries in Africa promoted schooling to establish an African middle class as the “enlightened” purveyors of European-style industrial progress in Africa.

Decolonization discourse in Kenya is highly moralistic, and it is used to judge people’s individual credentials to qualify as African.

This inability to deal with the intermediary category of the local is Kenya’s greatest intellectual weakness, and it affects decolonization as well. We are seemingly unable to see each other as human beings in all our complexity, and to see colonialism as just an aspect of the great historical trajectory of Africa. Instead, we make suffocating demands for proof of authentic African expression which we equate to decolonizing, yet colonialism was a political project, not an individual one.

The same character has been mapped onto Kenyan political life. Kenya is not only facing a tanking economy but a Kenyan middle class that cannot engage in a social conversation without resorting to name calling and character aspersions. The problem is that this is the class with access to international platforms, where it projects itself as secular and anti-colonial. And so the international impression of Kenya is that it has a vocal, anti-colonial, progressive, constitution-quoting educated class, with no idea that at home, the same anti-colonial rhetoric is inflicting injuries on ordinary Kenyans – especially on our children. Again, Mazrui observed this dynamic when he stated that “local African academics are less radical unless confronted with reactionary colonial academics”. Binyavanga Wainaina described this irony even better when he said:

To be a Kenyan is to be cursed by a system that pretends to function. There is enough of a school system, of a health system, of a private sector, good banks and tall buildings for everybody to see them. What nobody tells you is that this splendour is available only to the 5% who make it through the filters.

What is hidden in all the noise about African culture and lying politicians, is a very narrow area for engagement and conversation. When we limit politics to personal morality and ethnicity, we have no space for context, conversation or even innovation. And if one tries to widen the conversation, we accuse them of hypocrisy, which we almost always link to their ethnicity or personal experience. Rarely does the conversation extend to the social and the political.

We make suffocating demands for proof of authentic African expression which we equate to decolonizing, yet colonialism was a political project, not an individual one.

But that instinct of educated Kenyans to narrow the space for conversation makes sense when one looks at the life of Carey Francis. Francis appeared honest when he was judged within the narrow parameters of the school, the exam results of his students, and the prestigious jobs the young men got after school. But his honesty stopped being relevant when it was confronted with the political and institutional reality of colonialism. Nevertheless, the strong culture of individualism and moralism has remained entrenched in Kenyan public discourse. And, ironically, its epistemic foundation of Euro-Christian protestant liberalism seems to be the same foundation of decolonization in Kenya.

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Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy

Examining the recent and brutal attempts to suppress the Sudanese revolution, Magdi el Gizouli looks at the efforts by the regime and its various factions to seize the initiative from the streets. In recent months the ruthless figure of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (aka Himeidti), the leader of the infamous Rapid Support Forces, has moved into the centre of Sudanese politics. However, will the ‘neighbourhood committees’ be able to translate their revolutionary zeal into mass political action that can unite rural and urban discontent and challenge the regimes hold on power?



Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy

The last ten days of Ramadan, Islam’s fasting month, are supposed to be a period of spiritual transcendence. By this time, the discipline of fasting and nightly prayer is expected to have smoothed over the ugly creases of the believer’s soul in preparation for a new beginning. Likewise, it is the year’s peak shopping season, as families prepare for the Eid festivities and the associated cycles of gift exchanges. Not this year in Khartoum. Instead the remarkably peaceful city had on appointment with a ‘katla’, vernacular Sudanese for mass and senseless killing.

In the early hours of 29 Ramadan, 3 June, joint troops of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), stormed the site of the massive sit-in surrounding the headquarters of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) with the aim of crushing the protest movement that had for almost six continuous months captured Sudan’s politics. The attackers did not spare bullets, within hours around 130 unarmed protesters were killed, some clinging to the concrete blocks and bricks of the barricades they had anxiously guarded throughout the months of the sit-in. Many corpses were pulled out of the Nile tied to rocks.

The tent city which constituted the geography of an alternative Sudan in the minds of its inhabitants was soon in flames. Throughout the months of the protest sit-in, the tent city was a Woodstock of sorts on the Nile, a site where urban Sudan struggled to reinvent itself in a fervour of festive creativity and solidarity. The protesters reimagined their world and in exercising their imagination forged new relations that transgressed the boundaries of patriarchal authority and the established social order. The bubbling democracy of the qiada – Arabic shorthand for the [army] headquarters – became a cultural attraction. A middle class Khartoumian would go to work in the morning, drive home in the late afternoon to pick up the kids and stroll through the qiada tent city in the evening in the company of family and friends.

As an organisational form for protest the qiada sit-in was wildly successful, probably far beyond the expectation of the parties involved. While it lasted, it was a place where mostly young women and men could live out their claim to identity as real citizens . Cash transactions were the exception in the qiada sit-in as the protestors fashioned an economy of their own devised around the socialist instinct of ‘from each according to her ability and to each according to her need’. Food, medical care, public health services, security and transport were organised on a voluntary basis and proved remarkably resilient. A minor flu epidemic, known as the ‘qiada cold’ troubled the protesters but otherwise the massive sit in registered no other public health crisis thanks to robust and efficient public health measures. From afar, expatriate Sudanese, contributed funds and information technology hardware as well an explosion of sympathetic protests in Western capitals.

The attackers of 3 June were not satisfied with destruction of the human and physical structure of protest. Their aim was to extinguish the drive that had propelled the thousands upon thousands of young Sudanese into political action during a winter of revolutionary crisis, so they raped men and women. By the evening, residents of the smaller towns down the Nile from Khartoum were fishing corpses out of the river. In their hurry to clear the protest site, the valiant butchers of the RSF and the NISS ordered their troops to dispose of the young bodies in the river clumsily tied to concrete blocks in an effort to keep them down in the deep, silent for ever, but even as hapless corpses the protesters seemed to be challenging the will of Sudan’s security lords, floating up and out into open sight. The sacrilege was not intended to hide the obvious crime but was primarily a demonstration of brutality and immunity from accountability.

The massive sit-in around the army headquarters in Khartoum was the culmination of five months of popular protests. The scale and tenacity of the sit-in forced the hand of the military-security establishment to do away with President Bashir and declare a new dispensation. For some time already a liability, President Bashir was politically eliminated by his very generals. His deputy, Lieutenant General Awad ibn Ouf declared on state television on 11 April that a transitional military council headed by himself would take over authority. Outside military headquarters, thousands of jubilant protesters were not convinced and demanded the transfer of power to a civilian government. Soldiers and junior officers at the army headquarters were equally unsatisfied with Ibn Ouf. Within less than 48 hours Ibn Ouf appeared again on state television, this time to announce that he was stepping down as head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the official title of the ruling junta. Ibn Ouf named Abd al-Fattah al-Burhan as his successor, another army general with no known record of association with the Islamic Movement. Significantly, al-Burhan was the liaison officer of the Sudanese military’s deployment in the Saudi-Emirati-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In his first address to the nation, al-Burhan made remarkable overtures to the protest movement. He announced that no attempt will be made to break up the massive sit-in around the army headquarters and declared that the former president and leading figures of his party, the National Congress Party (NCP), will be arrested and eventually face justice. An announcement of the composition of the TMC followed. Unlike Sudan’s previous juntas, the TMC is not exclusively a ‘military’ organ in the strict sense of the word. The officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) who had long enjoyed political dominance were now forced to share their authority with separate armed formations, the NISS and the RSF, both creatures of the Bashir era. However, the TMC is by all means a re-creation of president Bashir’s own ‘security committee’, a central organ under his chairmanship that joins military, security, police and militia bosses and is replicated at the various level of administration as a grid of oppression.

The emergence of a strongman

Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (aka ‘Himeidti’), the leader of the infamous RSF emerged as the deputy chairman of the TMC and the critical agent of ‘change’ at the top. Himeidti, the name is a motherly diminutive form for ‘my little Mohamed’, was born in a family of agro-pastoralists north of Kutum. His people, the Mahariyya , a subsection of the wider Rizeigat, are predominantly pastoralists whose subsistence existence was convulsed by the penetration of commodification and the cash economy in twentieth century Sudan. The inadequacies of the Mahariyya ’s pastoral livelihood were laid bare in the 1984-1986 famine that struck Kordofan and Darfur as part of the wider Sahelian drought. Mohamed Hamdan the boy and his kin were displaced by the famine to Nyala, Darfur’s largest city and trade hub connecting regional trade networks that stretch through Chad, the Central African Republic and beyond, and into Libya and Egypt. Many Mahariyya  became settled millet farmers around Mellit, others remained camel herders. Whether settled or on the move most had to supplant their livelihoods with alternative strategies connected to the cash economy including labour migration, trade, and petty commodity production.

Many Mahariyya  men, including Mohamed Hamdan, flocked to Libya as migrant labourers or traders. In one study carried out in Mellit, four out of every ten Mahariyya  households had a male family member working in Libya. Mohamed Hamdan, the youngster, began his career as a merchant procuring goods from Nyala to Mellit. By the mid-1990s he was engaged in cross-border trade between Darfur, Chad and Libya. When the Darfur insurgency erupted in 2003, he was a livestock merchant with a base in Mellit and operations mainly in Libya . The war encircled Mellit. Both farming and livestock migration were severely curtailed while the closure of the Sudanese-Libyan border and widespread looting endangered trade routes and restricted the movement of labour. Mahariyya  traders including Mohamed Hamdan Daglo were under the impression that they were specifically targeted by the Darfuri insurgents. For many, Mellit became a place of siege. Two of Mohamed Hamdan’s brothers were killed in an incident on their way to Libya when insurgents attacked their trade caravan and looted their camels close to Karb al-Toum.

The racialisation of the conflict in Darfur was the background from which Mohamed Hamdan Daglo emerged as militia leader of his angry Mahariyya and Rizeigat kin. He joined the Sudanese army’s Border Guards, a militia formation fighting on the side of the government against the Darfur insurgents in 2003 and began a recruitment campaign in Nyala amongst his own ‘nas’ (Arabic for people) starting with a squad of 200 kinsmen. The brutal efficiency of Himeidti’s forces soon attracted the attention of Khartoum’s rulers. At the time, General Ibn Ouf was head of military intelligence. Himeidti demanded the formalisation of his militia and their inclusion in the wage-system of the SAF.

Three years later, Himeidti was granted court with President Bashir. Khartoum had signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) granting southern Sudan the right of self-determination as well as the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement with the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) faction led by Minni Minawi granting the rebel group regional authority over Darfur. In response, the still active Darfur rebel groups led by the then powerful Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) formed the umbrella National Redemption Front (NRF). The JEM under the leadership of its late founder, Khalil Ibrahim, was beginning to break the racial barrier in Darfur and actively winning supporters among Darfuri pastoralist Arabs including Himeidti’s own Mahariyya . Himeidti was in a position to negotiate. He asked for a share of power akin to the southern Sudanese militia leaders who had fought alongside the government in southern Sudan. The government was reluctant to accept his demands. In response, he camped outside Nyala with his troops in protest leaving the demoralised SAF units to their fate in Darfur’s harsh war-fields.

Soon, the Mahariyya merchant turned militia leader was in a position to punch even higher. He proved his worth in the bitter battles that followed the 2008 JEM attack on the capital Khartoum. In Darfur, JEM’s forces encircled al-Fasher and Himeidti came to the rescue after pleas from the garrison commander at the time, the SAF officer Imad al-Din Adawi.

As a reward, President Bashir summoned the war hero to Khartoum for decoration. Himeidti was granted the medal of courage and the authority and funding to expand recruitment under the umbrella of the ‘Rapid Support Forces’, for all practical purposes a private militia outside the formal chain of command of the SAF. President Bashir and his officers effectively outsourced their entire counterinsurgency operations to the RSF. Himeidti’s shock troops were in deployment across Sudan’s war zones, in Darfur, in South Kordofan and in the Blue Nile. When a wave of riots erupted in Khartoum in September 2013 against the government’s decision to slash fuel and bread subsidies in the aftermath of the independence of South Sudan it was the RSF’s teenage fighters who did the shooting in the capital. Hundreds of protesters lost their lives in the confrontation.

Thanks to Himeidti, herdsmen from northern Darfur had tapped into a new livelihood resource, war on commission. Geopolitics created ample opportunities for a mobile and capable fighting force on rent in a volatile region. Himeidti troops functioned as an extension of the European Union’s borders against intruding migrants deep in the African Sahara and as a long arm for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their battle against Houthi militants in Yemen. At the command of a loyal fighting force spread across the country and backed by powerful and rich patrons in the region, Himeidti was ready to displace the ageing resident of the palace on the Blue Nile. When coup officers confronted Bashir in the early hours of 11 April, he shouted that this is a Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian plot carried out by RSF commander Himeidti and the NISS boss Salah Gosh, or so claim Khartoum’s loud whisperers.

Himeidti’s rise from camel merchant in the Darfur wilderness to militiaman to ruler in the heart of the Nile Valley is a remarkable feat of historical cunning. The most recent example of such a transformation in power dates back to 1885 when Abdullahi son of Mohamed Taur Shein (arabic for vicious bull), a Baggara faki (holy man) from Darfur and Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahdi’s earliest disciple, succeeded the charismatic mystic and revolutionary from Dongola to become the Khalifa, ruler of the nascent Mahdist state. Abdullahi the Khalifa was significantly challenged by the Mahdi’s powerful kin, the country’s pre-modern coup plotters. Thanks to a massive standing army recruited predominantly from Baqqara herdsmen, the Khalifa persevered, defeated the putschists and was only dislodged from power sixteen years later by British Maxim guns, the first recoil operated machine-gun.

As a child in Omdurman, al-Khalifa’s capital west of the Nile, I went on school trips to the fields of Karari to the north of the town where over twenty thousand Mahdist fighters were massacred in the early hours of 2 September 1898. Every rainy season, some of those brave bones glittered dazzling white in the blazing sun against the reddish-brown soil of the Karari plain.

It is then not much of a surprise that Himeidti’s emergence at the top of the chaotic crowd of Bashir’s last years was perceived as an opportunity in many quarters. As a foreigner to the Khartoum establishment, Himeidti was generously interpreted by some as a hero of the downtrodden who could rework power relations in favour of Sudan’s marginalised peoples and finally win authority from the elite of the riverine heartland. From this perspective, his major achievement is perceived to be the subversion of the SAF, since Sudan’s independence the guarantor of the hegemony of the riverine elite. Accordingly, he became the betting horse of a Darfuri merchant class of predominantly Rizeigat and Zaghawa composition and the politicians and intellectuals in their orbit.

Uniting rural and urban politics

Bashir had managed subnational interests through a system of ethnic politics that involved a division and redivision of state and locality boundaries to match and create ethnic majorities with a dominant position in state and local government under the mantle of the ruling NCP. Hence, power conflicts often took the form of intra-NCP competition and manipulation of competing blocs was a constant preoccupation of the NCP high command. Likewise, ministerial positions at the central level were apportioned according to a complex calculus of political party and ethnic power division and sub-division. In this apportionment of posts and since the eruption of the Darfur insurgency and the secession of south the third position in the formal hierarchy of power, the office of vice president, was the preserve of Darfuri figures as successors to ethnic South Sudanese who had traditionally occupied the post before the independence of South Sudan. As a result, Bashir’s cabinets were more a warehouse of clients and far less so an effective executive. In his late years, he attempted to bypass this dysfunctional state of affairs born out of political convenience by further centralising power into his own hands. He created a series of councils that dealt with critical aspects of government business – defence, economic policy, investment and foreign relations amongst others – under his direct chairmanship that were superior to the individual ministries.

As a countermeasure to Bashir’s rationale of government, the opposition Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) demand the formation of a government of ‘meritocrats’ solely drawn from their ranks to rule over a transitional period and pave the way towards free and fair elections. While on first consideration a reasonable demand, government by merit is interpreted by the Rizeigat and Zaghawa nationalists and their allies as a refashioning of the narrow effendiyya nationalism of the riverine heartland at the root of rural grievances and a replay of the exclusionary ‘Sudanisation’ of independence. In a bid to groom a counterforce to the urbanite neo-effendiyya of the FFC, Himeidti and his allies were quick to seek the support of tribal notables from Sudan’s vast and largely impoverished rural worlds with the promise of ethnic representation as a reward. In many ways, Himeidti’s political operation seems to recreate Bashir’s very sultanic politics absent the organisational framework of the big tent NCP.

While the bare-knuckle negotiations between the TMC and the FFC revolve around one character of government, military or civilian, an underlying contradiction remains the rural-urban divide that has long bedevilled Sudan’s politics. Protesters in Sudan’s urban centres crystallised their demands into the singular slogan of ‘civilian’ government while the rustic rural support base of the TMC and its champion Himeidti shout for continuation of ‘military’ rule. The FFC, unfortunately, are yet to imagine a political formula that can provide a bridgehead into rural Sudan. I would argue that the notion of a government of ‘meritocrats’ drawn from Sudan’s best educated cosmopolitans misses the target. Meanwhile, Himeidti was savvy enough to engage the leaders of the Darfur insurgencies he had almost obliterated on the battlefield securing friendly hand-shaking photoshoots and an embryonic alliance.

The brutality of the RSF and the ineloquence of their leader and his many gaffes, he once referred to the minister of higher education as the minister of ‘giraya’, colloquial Sudanese Arabic for learning, were identified by Khartoum’s cosmopolitans as markers of a violent pastoral essence. He was ridiculed as a backward herdsman and as a rogue general in contradistinction to the ‘true’ military college generals of the SAF. In anguish, Khartoum’s political class rummaged the officer corps in search for a ‘enlightened’ soldier who could save the day, crush the RSF with a bold strike of military advantage and rescue the honour of the SAF corps. This political wish acquired the form of myth in popular imagination, the myth of the Atbara armoured battalion expected at any moment in Khartoum. Himeidti and the RSF are as much an expression of the rural crisis as they are of the chaotic war-driven urbanisation of Sudan. In a way, Himeidti is today the political name of Nyala, the trading capital of Darfur that has long displaced Wad Medani in the Gezira heartland as Sudan’s second largest urban centre and possibly the country’s most important commercial hub trading in narcotics and cross-border smuggling of livestock.

The revolutionary challenge from below

Now, in the face of these trials Sudan’s revolutionary surge remains a formidable challenge to Himeidti and his powerful allies and patrons. At the core of revolutionary action is a radical component drawn from urban subalterns who are neither subsumed under the FFC meritocratic model nor liable to co-optation by Himeidti’s pledge of ethnic representation under sultanic authority. The most successful organisational form of this precariat spread across Sudan’s urban landscape is so far the neighbourhood-level ‘resistance committee’. These neighbourhood committees are accessible to precariously employed and unemployed labour and dominated by groups of militants whose political orientations are drawn from confrontation with the abusive and extractive state and the relations of power that sustain it. It is these militant elements, with no recognised place in the social order and with little to gain from its racial hierarchy and ethic building blocs, who have faced the greatest wrath of the military security establishment.

Ahead of the 29 Ramadan massacre state media launched a vicious smear campaign against the protesters of ‘Columbia’, the name the subalterns of the qiada sit-in chose for their favoured spot on the bank of the Nile, for their disregard of middle-class norms. Columbia, state media claimed, had become a site of flagrant moral corruption rife with debauchery, drugs, crime and unnameable social ills. The Sudan Professionals Association (SPA), hitherto the trusted guardian of the revolution, dithered and issued a statement distancing itself from Columbia and its inhabitants. In government speak the 29 Ramadan massacre was hatched as an operation to sweep Columbia ‘clean’ but ran out of control and in the words of the spokesman of the TMC ‘what happened happened!’. Significantly, it was in Columbia where fraternisation between subaltern protesters and their fellow SAF and RSF soldiers was most marked, at times threatening military command and discipline.

The TMC generals, al-Burhan and Himeidti, attempted to reach out to the stricken masses in an effort to soothe the revolutionary anger fuelling the daring protest movement. Himeidti addressed a rally in Mayo and al-Burhan another in Um Badda, both sprawling impoverished and heavily populated neighbourhoods in the outer circle of Khartoum and Omdurman respectively. Himeidti promised the allocation of residential plots to squatters and al-Burhan reproduced the discourse of marginalisation promising a new beginning of social equality with some success but the masses were not satisfied. Both men were incessantly interrupted by cries of ‘madaniyya’ – Arabic for civilian – the catchphrase of the protest movement.

As al-Burhan spoke on 30 June, the anniversary of the 1989 putsch that brought President Bashir to power, demonstrators filled the streets of Khartoum and almost all of Sudan’s major towns in their tens of thousands in a remarkable show of popular will to bring down the rule of the junta and install the pursued ‘madaniyya’. The response of the military-security establishment to this enduring determination was a series of extrajudicial killings targeting militants of the ‘resistance committees’. A policeman who inspected the corpses shot at close range to the head identified one of the slain militants as his own son.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between the TMC and the FFC, now mediated by the African Union (AU) and the Ethiopian government as well as a cohort of Western diplomats including newly reappointed US envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth, the course of the Sudanese revolution is for the now in the hands of the ‘resistance committees’. Some have claimed local authority in their neighbourhoods toppling the petty autocrats of the Bashir-era ‘popular committees’ and are refashioning micro-authority to fit an emancipatory zeal. The question remains, will they be able to translate this zeal  into mass political action that can take on the brutal machinations of the Sudanese state?

This article was first published by ROAPE.

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Raw Macadamia Nut Exports: Kenya Executes an About-Turn

The government has decided to lift the ban on exports of raw nuts but what the country’s macadamia nut sector sorely needs is policy support from the national and county governments.



Raw Macadamia Nut Exports: Kenya Executes an About-Turn

The government has backtracked on a directive that was, ironically, issued by President William Ruto when he was Kenya’s agriculture minister. In 2009, Ruto banned the export of unprocessed macadamia nuts to allow local processors access to larger quantities of the raw material which in turn would create jobs in this labour-intensive sector.

In recent years, macadamia farming has gained traction in even non-traditional growing areas beyond Mt Kenya such as the Rift Valley and western regions. However, both the county and national governments have consistently failed to put in place all the measures necessary to support the macadamia sector and this has significantly affected farm gate prices today, leading to huge losses for farmers.

A number of factors have contributed to the poor farm gate prices, which the government wrongly assumes will improve once competition is introduced by bringing in more exporters of raw macadamia.

Following the export ban, both the national government and county governments in macadamia catchment areas failed to provide the policy support necessary to promote a sector where four years ago the farm gate price for a kilo of raw nuts was Ksh180 due to the increased number of processors. Fears have emerged in recent years that Kenya is losing its grip on the niche international market due to the low quality of the nuts produced, which makes the KSh180 per kilo price unsustainable.

At the time Kenya instituted the ban on exports of raw macadamia nuts in 2009, there were only three other macadamia nut-producing countries in the world—Australia, South Africa, and Hawaii in the United States, with Kenya supplying about 20 per cent of the total global demand.

Between 90 and 95 per cent of Kenya’s macadamia is produced for export. Key export destinations for Kenyan macadamia are the US, the European Union, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Canada. In 2020, the demand for Kenya’s macadamia globally declined by 40 per cent, a drop the processors attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New entrants who now threaten Kenya’s global market include China, Guatemala, Malawi, Vietnam, Colombia, New Zealand, Mozambique, Brazil, Paraguay and Swaziland. In total, 15 countries in the world have joined the macadamia producing club in the last decade.

The Chinese government established the International Macadamia Research and Development Center in Lincang in 2018 and the country’s market potential for macadamia is now the largest on the planet, recording an 11-fold increase in macadamia consumption between 2012 and 2018.

In an earlier interview, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nut Processors Association of Kenya (NutPAK),  Mr Charles  Muigai, said that the biggest challenge to Kenya’s market competitiveness in the global arena is the low quality of nuts produced by Kenyan farmers due to the insufficient support the sector receives from the government and other actors.

A report by the Netherlands Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries titled Value Chain Analysis for Macadamia Nuts from Kenya 2020 cited climate change, the impact of pests and diseases, poor agricultural practices, lack of access to inputs, use of unsuitable or old macadamia varieties and immature harvesting as Kenya’s main challenges.

At a critical point of transition following the ban, there was no functioning formal association of macadamia farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture did initiate the creation of the Macadamia Growers Association of Kenya in 2009, but it remains underfunded and without offices.

Unlike the tea and coffee sectors, the macadamia sector has evolved without any regulation or policy support from the government, the only major interventions being the 2009 ban and its anchoring in law in 2018.

The production of macadamia nuts in Kenya traces its history to 1944 when a European settler named Bob Harries introduced the crop from Australia in his estate near Thika town for ornamental and household consumption purposes.

The government would years later facilitate the creation of a joint venture between Japanese investors led by Yoshiyuki Sato and a Kenyan, Pius Ngugi, to set up the Kenya Nut Company (KNC), which to this day still runs the factory in Thika.

Initially, the company built a modern processing plant and established its own macadamia plantations on about 400ha and also set up a nursery for the propagation of adapted and grafted seedlings to supply out-growers.

The production of macadamia nuts in Kenya traces its history to 1944 when a European settler named Bob Harries introduced the crop from Australia.

By 1975, the company was processing nuts from its own estate as well as from out-growers. It enjoyed a monopoly purchase right for in-shell nuts, sourcing 90 per cent of the raw nuts from 140 smallholder coffee cooperative societies, as well as from another 47 buying centres.

Like the cashew nut sector, the macadamia sector was affected by the liberalisation of the economy. Being a private company, KNC could not be privatized, which shielded it from the decay that ensued in the cashew nut sector.

However, liberalisation accelerated domestic competition. In 1994, Equity Bank founder Peter Munga  opened a macadamia processing factory called Farm Nut Co. in Maragua in then Murang’a District.

With the entry of Farm Nut, the role of middlemen became predominant, due to the logistics challenges faced by the company in sourcing nuts from farmers. Brokers would buy nuts directly from the farmers, offering better prices than the cooperatives had, and immediate payment. Consequently, this significantly reduced farmers’ costs of transporting nuts to collection centres and collecting payments from banks.

Moreover, reduced volumes from the cooperatives increased processors’ transactional costs.  It became more convenient for them to deal with middlemen, and by the early 2000s, the role of the cooperatives in the macadamia supply chain had diminished.

A dramatic shift in the industry came in the early 2000s when China became a mass consumer of the nuts. The emergence of a growing middle class in China with an appetite for in-shell nuts, and the increasing number of container ships docking in Mombasa demanding cargo for the return journey, tempted Chinese traders to venture into the export of raw macadamia nuts from the country.

Local processors would buy nuts mainly from Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, and Nyeri, where Kikuyu processors had established processing units and created networks with local communities that they hired for factory jobs. This helped to lock the Chinese out of these regions.

Estimates by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service indicate that nearly 60 per cent of macadamia had been exported in-shell in 2008, implying that exporters had been able to purchase most of the crop from Embu and Meru. This posed a huge threat, bringing processors together to push the government to ban the export of raw nuts that was finally instituted on 16 June 2009.

A dramatic shift in the industry came in the early 2000s when China became a mass consumer of the nuts.

With the exit of the Chinese and the creation of processors’ and farmers’ associations, there was hope that the industry would get organised and receive the necessary support.

This did not happen. Both the farmers and processors would soon be left to their own devices, competing with each other to fight the Chinese who were still smuggling nuts out of Kenya. However, the competition and the need to create more volume saw processors increase production five-fold in the last decade, reaching close to 50,000 metric tonnes by 2020. They also grew in number from 5 to over 30, a move that saw farmers get an unprecedented Sh200 a kilo despite complaints that the quality did not justify the price.

In Meru and Embu the belief remained that things would be different were the Chinese buyers still available, and this may have prompted the recent lifting of the ban. The processors blamed the poor prices on brokers and the resultant high percentage of immature nuts. A narrative was also pushed that if farmers started selling the nuts to processors directly—rather than via brokers—good prices would return.

According to the report of the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing countries, the main opportunity for yield improvement lies with supporting extension service providers, such as the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Organisation (KALRO) and the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), to increase farmers’ capacities and to multiply and disseminate high-yielding macadamia seedlings that are suited to the different macadamia growing regions of Kenya.

There are two main areas of intervention for quality improvement. The first involves supporting processors who wish to obtain loans to buy crops in advance, thereby addressing farmers’ need for quick cash. The second is the implementation of region-relevant harvesting moratoria.

Upstream traceability of Kenyan macadamia is severely challenged by the large number of smallholder farmers and independent buying agents. Small plantations typify Kenya’s production system as opposed to producers like China, South Africa and Australia, which have large plantations. Around 200,000 small farms in Kenya currently produce an estimated 42,500 tons of in-shell nuts.

Upstream traceability of Kenyan macadamia is severely challenged by the large number of smallholder farmers and independent buying agents.

Moreover, support should go to the creation of a registry of farmers, including data such as landholding size, age and number of macadamia trees and macadamia varieties and traders. This registry should be governed and accessed by members of the sector’s associations and by the AFA.

Communication and dialogue among macadamia stakeholders is lacking, with conflicting interests among actors often leading to rivalry.

To address this, sector associations should establish, adopt and enforce codes of conduct to regulate sector players. Dialogue and transparency should be the ruling principles of this code of conduct. Moreover, all actors should discuss a multi-stakeholder strategy to address the challenges facing the macadamia sector.

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