Where Corn Won't Grow: As Drought Deepens, Kenyans Turn To Manioc For Survival

Faced with a severe drought, farmers in the region decided to begin planting manioc and sorghum, two crops that need less water than traditional corn.

A manioc plant in bloom
A manioc plant in bloom
Sébastien Hervieu

KEE - "Look, there is nothing. Just look!" Norman Ngunda rips out a corn crop, only a few centimeters tall. The stem is yellow, dry and thin. Next to that, a more than two-meter tall manioc plant, with lush green leaves.

This isn't the first time farmers living in Kee, a small Kenyan village located a few hundred kilometers south-east of the capital Nairobi, have noticed the difference. That is why in 2008 Ngunda reworked his land, setting up terraces to retain the water, and switched from planting corn to manioc.

"There were days my family had nothing to eat because of the lack of rain," says the 60-year-old farmer. Seventy percent of the people living in Kee regularly depend on humanitarian aid from either the government or international organizations. Ngunda says he had an idea. "I remembered what my parents did when they were hungry; they planted manioc."

Only the white parts of the root are edible from the woody shrub, also known as "cassava." It becomes especially valuable when there's not enough rain to harvest corn, Kenya's number one crop. "I get about 100 schillings (1.60 euro) for three manioc roots. With that I can buy one kilo of corn. That's enough to feed my family for a whole day."

And so Ngunda's 12-member family can eat year-round, he's decided to reserve two-thirds of his land for manioc.

Some 400 other farmers in the region have followed his example. "We don't only feel the effects of climate change in already dry regions," says Leonard Maweu, a spokesperson for a group of farmers. "Before, we received 800 millimeters of rain per year. That's down to 400 millimeters. And it's not constant throughout the year. Sometimes it rains for a whole week, and then it just stops."

Deadly Toxins

On top of needing less water, manioc also requires fewer pesticides. The root, however, can contain a toxic substance that can in some cases be deadly. "The stems we select for farmers are safe," says John Wambua from the Kenya Agricultural research Institute (KARI), a project partly financed by the European Union.

Still, for many Kenyans, manioc remains a poor man's crop. "Since the introduction of corn last century, most Kenyans have turned away from traditional farming," says Wambua, "but these droughts are pushing them to reconsider."

Seventy kilometers further south, in the village of Mbuvo, some 560 farmers – working together in a co-op – are harvesting their first year of manioc crops. The roots are weighed, washed and pealed. They are ground into fine powder and left to dry in the sun on big wooden planks.

"Nothing is lost and we make everything with manioc," explains Judah Kimev, a member of the co-op. On the table in front of him: bags filled with manioc flour, packets of crisps, animal feed, and dishes prepared with manioc leafs.

"Every year, the farmers get part of the profits," says Joseph Masyuki, president of the Mbuvo co-op. He hopes his organization will soon grow to include surrounding villages as well. "Since we were able to buy a tractor, the goal is to plant 300 hectares of manioc in 2012 and export our harvest to South Sudan, the UK and Germany."

Manioc isn't the only traditional crop that's currently making a comeback in Kenya. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute also pushes farmers to again plant sorghum, another plant that requires little water. Today, some 3000 Kenyan farmers are able to sell their harvest to local breweries.

"Students take HIV prevention classes at University," says KARI's John Wadua. "They should teach the same about food security."

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Photo - Damouns

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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