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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee 7:30 pm, 30th March 2009

I am happy to acknowledge that, but Botswana pioneered the arrangements and Namibia has wisely followed suit.

The purpose of our visit to Kenya and Tanzania was to consider the impact of climate change and the ability to secure sustainable development in the changing circumstances of climate change and the difficult financial situation. In visiting Kenya, we were also mindful of the political tension that has compromised its development. Indeed, we visited an internally displaced persons' camp between Nairobi and Lake Naivasha, where we asked people what had happened. The initial, rather bland response was that it was a failure of political leadership and the politicians were responsible. But we pressed them and asked, "Who actually drove you out of your homes and burnt your businesses and killed members of your family?" Then they said that it was the brothers and sisters with whom they were living, and that was shocking. The people had resettled in the IDP camp, bought the land and were turning it into a township. We asked them what they wanted, and they said, "We are all Kikuyu in this camp, but that is not what we want. We want to be back living with our brothers and sisters if we can find the reconciliation." Even at that basic level there is hope and an aspiration to find solutions, although the worry is that the political leadership to deliver results is lacking in that country.

In the region we visited, we saw some very positive things that demonstrate that, even in countries with difficulties, there is real potential for development. For example, because we were looking at sustainable development, we visited Lake Naivasha to see the flower farms there. We spent a day at Oserian, where we saw what is a world-class operation by any standards. Indeed, the questions that we had to ask about sustainability and viability were answered in the presentation before we had the chance to ask them. Although the company has 7,000 hectares of land, it uses only 250 to grow flowers. It uses hydroponic systems to minimise water and fertiliser use. It uses real pest management, thus reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent. over the last three years. It also uses geothermal energy to dry the greenhouses to prevent fungal infection.

As a result, the company can make the competitive point that the carbon footprint of its flowers, which anyone can buy in a supermarket here, is one sixth of that of similar flowers produced in the Netherlands. For those who suggest that we should not buy flowers or indeed vegetables from Kenya, the simple message is that the opposite is the case. The Kenyan flowers are low-carbon by comparison with European production. The company, one of a number strewn around the lake, is also profitable and employs 5,600 people, paying even the newest employee double the minimum wage and offering bonuses and overtime and providing education, health and housing for its work force. It is a model employer by any standards. If there were enough of a variety of such operations, we would see the beginnings of real development and how a country could move towards the middle-income status that everyone wants it to aspire to. It would certainly lift more people out of poverty.

The problem is that much of Kenya is arid, or very arid, and poses challenges of simple basic survival. It is in receipt of more than $500 million of food aid, and 2.5 million people require emergency food relief. We were told by one Minister that he was sure that enough rain was falling on Kenya to meet all the country's water requirements, but the infrastructure investment necessary to capture that water and distribute it to the entire country was beyond the Government's resources. Indeed, Mrs. Curtis-Thomas would say that if the Kenyans were given the money and the engineers to do it themselves, it would constitute development, as well as reduce pressure on scarce resources.

We visited a desert area in the north of Kenya. Indeed, we drove for an hour across pure desert with not a blade of vegetation of any kind. We found a very small arable farming project in a location with underground springs. The very simplest support was giving local farmers, who had found the land for themselves, the basics needed to fence it against predators and cultivate it by hand, as well as simple advice on the most appropriate crops for that environment. From being a bit of abandoned desert, it had become a village of several hundred people, preparing the ground for harvesting and looking forward to being able to feed themselves and to provide the town on the other side of the desert with food. Very little money was needed to provide that basic assistance. Indeed, the question was why the Government there could not pick up such projects and apply them.

An agency called Solidarité, a French NGO funded by DFID, was delivering that work and, in other parts of the area, was providing sand dams to capture water, as well as high quality latrines, which had DFID stamped all over them. That is not usually the sort of branding that DFID enjoys, but Ministers will be pleased to learn that DFID latrines are the pride of northern Kenya.

The other issue was how it was possible to improve livestock management for pastoral people living in very challenging areas. Indeed, quite a lot of advice was being given by international institutions. I remember attending the Prime Minister's food summit at Downing street, where many of our researchers complained that our capacity had been effectively demolished in the past 10 or 15 years. I lamented the fact that institutions in my area, such as the Rowett research institute, the Macaulay institute and the Scottish Agricultural College, were disappearing. An international agency based in Nairobi made the point, "We know that. We have recruited many of the researchers ourselves. If you don't want them, the rest of the world can use them." It seems sad that we have had to lose them in that way.

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