When the Drought Came, a Kenyan Farm Died

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A sub-Saharan drought has all but destroyed a Kenya-based family farm. The small enterprise has been successful for decades. Commentator Pius Kamau describes the deterioration of his family's coffee farm.


Commentator Pius Kamau grew up south of Ethiopia, in Kenya. His family's livelihood there is withering in the sub-Saharan drought.

PIUS KAMAU: We dug holes for the coffee plants in the red mountain earth, hopeful for the future. It was the 1960s, after Kenya's independence - the first time Africans could grow coffee.

Before then, many of our British rulers owned thousands of acres of coffee trees. We cleared the 12-acres of mountain land my family inherited from our Kikuyu clan, cutting down swaths of trees and vegetation on the hill. At the bottom of the hill run a vigorous stream. On the other side of flowed a fair size river. Everything was low-tech. We transported manure and bags of coffee beans by ox-drawn carts. A lush green tropical canopy covered the slopes of Mount Kenya. The world was green, and the yield of Arabica coffee good during those first 10 years.

Then it changed. Rainfall averages fell, temperatures rose. The green mountain canopy became spurs. Coffee trees wilted and the coffee yield plummeted. My siblings and I left the farm. Even as Starbucks Cafes seemed to be sprouting on every street in America, mother could not make ends meet.

For 10 years now, an interminable drought has strangled much of sub-Saharan Africa. The stream at the bottom of our coffee farm has dried up. The river is a trickle now. For mother and other Kikuyu farmers, drought in farming are God's will. But I fear my lifestyle contributes to their African drought, to the drying rivers, to the melting snows in Mt. Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro.

I live in American suburbia now. My coffee arrives in a cup hot and steaming at the twist of a barista's wrist. Sometimes when I drive my SUV, I wonder how much African wildlife, how many African tribesmen is the CO2 are produced killing? Even if the CO2 from my tailpipe doesn't affect the sub-Saharan drought, it's a culprit. Perhaps it's helping melt glaciers somewhere else on earth.

The answer, of course, is to cut back on our consumption. Buy smaller cars, conserve. Chastened, I'm changing my ways and giving up much that's unnecessary. My family's farm is dying now. Mother is an old woman who no longer runs the farm. I have encouraged her to immigrate to America, but she won't. I had known millions of Africans would jump at such an offer to escape Africa's misery. But that would be only a temporary answer. The enduring solution lies in improving Africa's condition by trying to slow the effects of global climate change and repairing world that's spilling out of balance.

INSKEEP: Commentator Pius Kamau was a physician in Denver. He grew up in Kenya.

Now here's the latest on another story we're following this morning. President Bush's leading political advisor is going home. Karl Rove says he will leave the White House at the end of this month. He broke that news in the Wall Street Journal, and White House officials confirm it today. Rove's long string of political victories was broken in 2006 when his party lost control of Congress. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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