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Devastating effect of drought on Oklahoma: lessons from Africa

Next Year A poem by Robert Park,

Verdigris Valley Electric Co-op Member

It’s summer time 2011 here on the farm We’re in a drought and it’s doing great harm The grass is short

And the ponds are near dry If it don’t rain soon The fi sh will all die.

Over 30 days we’ve had hundred degrees Not many clouds and very little breeze. Ranchers are culling back their herds Heeding the weather man’s discouraging words. Hay is in very short supply Making the price unreasonable high We’ll try to match our numbers With our short supply.

Faded from memory is last winter’s snow And the temperature that dropped to 20 below Out of the question was going to town With two feet of snow covering the ground. Feeding the cattle was going to be late With all of that snow couldn’t open the gate. Our son showed up early that cold winter morn Just said hi asked if we were warm.

He went out to see if that green tractor would start, Did as I taught him, got old green running bless his heart.

He mounted the blade that went on the back And that two feet of snow he began to attack. Worked all day and fi nally prevailed By plowing out drifts and making a trail.

When you talk to God, better mind what you say I bowed in prayer that cold winter day I said please God send warmer weather our way. Well God answered my prayer Though it wasn’t right then

It was six months later and it’s a hundred and ten.

My girls said “Dad stay out of this heat Drink something cool and stay off your feet.” To me that sounded like pretty good advice I got a glass of tea and fi lled it with ice Got in my favorite easy chair, Pulled the lever got my feet in the air. Those maintenance chores That are here on the farm Going undone won’t do much harm. So into the corner I threw my cap And settled down for my noon time nap.

Commodity prices are at an all time high Makes farmers and rancher feel quite well. But prices don’t matter if you’ve nothing to sell.

Farmers and ranchers are a hardy lot In raising a crop they bet all they got. If rain don’t come in a timely way, The note at the bank will be harder to pay. God is still in His Heaven and we shouldn’t fear For things will be better Come next year.

34 OKLAHOMA LIVING By Robert Anguzu R

ecently, Oklahoma experienced some of the worst drought conditions in state history. The temperatures rose as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

The situation was so critical that crops failed and animal feeds dwindled — hay and farm sup- plies experienced shortages. As a result, farmers, ranchers and owners of related agricultural busi- nesses lost billions of dollars. A report released by researchers at Oklahoma State University mid September 2011 put the cost of the recent drought at $ 1.6 billion dollars — in- dicating that the prolonged drought could result in the increase of food prices and other consumer goods.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also indicated, in its recent report to commemorate World Food Day on October 16, that grain prices in 2010 shot up by 50 percent and will continued to soar through 2011. The drought that ravaged Oklahoma last sum- mer is not only unique to Oklahoma — but also akin to African drought conditions — which of- ten deprive farmers of good crop yields and ani- mal pastures. And the effect among other things includes price swings which represent a major threat to food security in Africa. However, fi nding a viable alternative to solve the problem of food security, feed, fi ber, energy and environmental degradation — as a result of drought and other climatic factors — continues to be at the center of scientifi c research. Notwithstanding the controversies surround- ing the application of modern biotechnology, crop biotechnology has been identifi ed as one of many strategies to complement conventional breeding. Simply, biotechnology is the use of liv- ing things to make or change products. It is both an ancient art and modern science with applica- tion across different sectors – including its ap- plications in beer brewing and pharmaceutical industries.

To highlight some of the food security chal- lenges facing Africa, more than 300 million Afri- cans, including 3.6 million Ugandans depend on maize as their main staple food. But the produc- tion of this maize is severely affected by frequent drought – which leads to crop failure, hunger and poverty.

Because of the magnitude of the problem, dis- cussions with public and private sector organiza- tions on the state of drought in Africa eventually led to the establishment of the Water Effi cient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project under the man-

agement of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Nairobi, Kenya. The project aims to address the devastating

effects of drought on smallholder farmers by developing drought tolerant maize varieties us- ing both conventional and biotechnology ap- proaches.

In order to successfully implement the proj- ect, it also necessitated entering into partnership with national agricultural research systems in Africa and other institutions such as the Inter- national Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Monsanto to provide advanced research technologies, which would be appro- priate for the development of drought-tolerant maize varieties for smallholder farmers. Today, the WEMA project is implemented in five Sub-Saharan African countries – includ- ing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique – through respective national ag- ricultural research systems namely: Kenya Ag- ricultural Research Institute (KARI), Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Tanzania’s Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), Agricultural Re- search Council of South Africa, and Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM). It has been argued that the risk of crop fail- ure from drought is one of the primary reasons smallholder farmers in Africa do not adopt im- proved farming techniques such as hybrid seed and fertilizers.

It is envisaged that through the WEMA project, drought-tolerant maize varieties will produce re- liable harvests and increase yields for smallhold- er farmers in Africa. And this yield is likely to translate into two million additional tons of food harvested during drought years, which would be enough to feed as many as 21 million people in the fi ve WEMA partner countries. The technolo- gies will also be made available to smallholders farmers royalty free – meaning that farmers will be able to purchase hybrid seed varieties at more or less the same price as regular non-WEMA hy- brid maize seeds.

Nonetheless, the challenge remains in Africa. Compared with other applications of gene tech- nology, crop biotechnology is perceived to be less acceptable. It continues to generate lots of debate from different stakeholders – including the media, farmers and legislators. This is likely to affect the eventual adoption and acceptance of the biotech products. But the devastating effects of drought because of climate change and other human and environmental factors will continue to have an impact on our food security. OL

Robert Anguzu is the Public Relations Offi cer for the National Agricultural Research Organisation in Uganda. He was an intern at Oklahoma Living magazine as a part of an international food security program sponsored by Oklahoma State Unviersity.

Maize struggles to survive drought in Uganda, Africa. Photo Courtesy of Robert Anguzu

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