The landscape of a farm, just outside the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is occupied by half a dozen women harvesting French beans for European Union (EU) supermarkets. After collection the women will pre-grade the beans, discarding 10 to 20-percent because of standards set by EU supermarkets. Thereafter a pack-house (where the beans are cut and packaged for shipment), for one of the top exporting horticultural companies in Kenya, will examine and discard another 15 to 35-percent. This practice has contributed to claims that European Union supermarkets are to blame for food waste in Kenya.
According to an executive with a Kenyan horticultural company, who insisted neither he nor his pack-house be identified because of possible repercussions from EU companies, “we waste on average between 15 to 35-percent of our crops because of the high specifications set for appearance (size, shape and color) by EU supermarkets.” He went on to explain, “if you took all the vegetable and fruit exporters in Kenya and collected all the produce we’re forced to discard because of EU standards, we could feed all of Kenya’s poor and hungry. One hundred percent of our French bean crop is produced for their market. It’s not a Kenyan food. We’re trying to get our people to eat it but the local market will only take small quantities. If the EU would lower its specifications the food we grow would be of greater value, and we could then invest more into feeding Kenyans.” Unfortunately donating the rejected produce isn’t practical for farmers because of transportation and storage costs; it’s used as feed for pigs and cows.
According to the Kenyan government, 30-percent of Kenyan children are undernourished and 10 million people suffer from food shortages and poor nutrition. Wasted food also represents a major loss of water, energy, fertilizers and land.
At the pack-house, which received delivery from the farm described at the beginning, approximately a third of each French bean is cut off before being packed in small packets; the beans have a slight curve and packets for EU supermarkets are short and straight.
In February the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held a three-course meal, in Nairobi, to highlight a campaign to cut massive levels of global food waste. Hundreds of ministers, diplomats and other high-level officials dined on food grown by Kenyan farmers but rejected by United Kingdom supermarkets due to cosmetic imperfections. It was done in support of the global Think.Eat.Save.Reduce Your Foodprint – an initiative launched in January by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners such as Feeding the 5,000.
Food waste is a global issue. A UN study indicates that globally one-third of all food produced, 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted or lost annually, while 925 million people around the world are threatened by starvation.
“Post harvest is the problem in the world, not production,” said the Kenyan executive who refused to be identified. “We can be so much more efficient with feeding people with what we already produce.”
After a week of electoral uncertainty, due to technical glitches with Kenya’s electronic voting system, Uhuru Kenyatta is declared the presidential winner. However his main rival, Raila Odinga, vowed to challenge the “tainted election” in the Supreme Court.
President-elect Kenyatta is set to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over violence that followed the 2007 polls. He, and his running mate, William Ruto, are accused of fueling the communal violence that saw more than 1,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes. One of the areas where such violence occurred was the Kibera Slums, which was particularly tense as the country awaited a decision on who would be the 2013 presidential victor.
All week groups of mostly men gathered on the streets to talk politics and watch the ballot count on storefront televisions. Fear of possible violence caused some families to pack up their belongings and head “up country” (a term used to describe one’s ancestral homeland). Such fears proved to be unfounded as the vote remained peaceful. How Mr. Odinga now handles his supporters will determine whether his dispute stays in the courts or spills out onto the streets.
Disputes in Kenya tend to play along tribal lines. Mr. Odinga is a Luo and president-elect Kenyatta is a Kikuyu (Kenya’s largest ethnic group). In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Odinga in a highly disputed election. Echos of such divisiveness came up on Friday when members of “Women for Peace” attempted to take their message to the streets of the Kibera Slums. They were forced to abandon the march after being warned they were approaching a block where they would be attacked by men who viewed them as partisan (representing the wrong tribe and presidential candidate). What began as a cheerful march with them singing songs of peace ended in dejection as they abandoned the march entirely. Their group is a coalition of women from different Nairobi slums: Kibera, Mathare, Huruma, Mkuru, Dandora and Korogocho.
While the mantra across Kenya is “amani” (peace), some campaigners are warning against a “peace coma” – a failure to address past injustices which would prevent Kenya from moving on. People say they will wait for the legal process to run its course. Some point to the new constitution and recent judicial reforms as a reason for the relative calm compared with five years ago, when Kibera was a flashpoint. But there are worries about the future. Many hope Mr. Kenyatta will uphold the new constitution and co-operate with the ICC, as he fights charges of crimes against humanity. Mr. Odinga hopes to save Kenya from the challenges of a Kenyatta presidency.
Additional work by Ric Francis may be viewed on his website www.ricfrancis.org.
Nairobi’s Mathare slums, situated three miles east of the city’s central business district, are considered one of the worst in Africa. They are home to over 600,000 people occupying an area of two miles long by one mile wide. The residents struggle with limited access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education.
George Gawo, 28, left, stands in what once was his mother’s bedroom. On the right is Peter Gawo, 28, his brother, standing in another section of the family’s burned down three-room shanty. The Gawos attribute the destruction to political violence.
The Mathare slums are notorious for criminal activity, particularly by gang members; it’s called the most dangerous community in Nairobi. Recently the area has been plagued by fires which have left hundreds homeless. Suspicious fires on Christmas eve, which resulted in over 300 shanties burned and three deaths, triggered what the police have termed retaliatory fires by rival gangs.
Residents expressed fears of further attacks as tension remains high in the area. “The houses were razed because of hatred among people. People on this side and people on the other side are not getting along, but I don’t know what is causing these differences. So many people have been affected,” stated a resident who identified himself as Maish. Many residents fearing for their lives refuse to speak with reporters to avoid being identified by the groups responsible for havoc in the area.
Police have ruled out any political or tribal causes for the burned shanties. However there are those in the community, such as George Gawo, 28, a Luo (Kenya’s second largest ethnic group), who disagree with the police and believe they conducted a poor investigation.
George Gawo stands amid the ruins of shanties destroyed by a fire.
“There are local leaders who aspire for power. They influence gangs to do such things. Five years ago similar fires occurred in Mathare a few months before the elections, so that the majority tribe forced out the minority. Luos were forced to leave after their homes were torched. Kikuyus (Kenya’s largest ethnic group) were then able to vote their candidate into office,” said Gawo. In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, in a highly disputed election.
With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013, tribal conflict and violence are a major concern. Hence, many Mathare residents are uneasy about the recent fires. Gawo along with seven siblings and their mother have taken refuge with neighbors and friends following the burning of their three-room shanty. He and three family members were home when the fires started; they quickly fled with no time to grab any possessions. “Many people were in church for overnight prayers so injuries were not many. We lost everything and had to borrow clothes from friends, said Peter Gawo, 23.
In the weeks that have followed only a few people have started rebuilding; landlord Muthoni Kamau, 65, stood nearby supervising as three of her tenants removed debris from their shanties. She said twenty of her rented shanties were burned to the ground but was thankful that none of her tenants were injured. Kamau, a Kikuyu, would hear nothing of tribal violence being responsible for the fires. She agreed with the police assertion that the fires were the mindless act of hooligans. Despite the disagreement all agreed that violence was far to common in Mathare.
Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at www.ricfrancis.org.
Approximately 500 Kenyan activists held a mock state burial and burnt 221 caskets in front of the Parliament building on January 16. The 221 caskets represented each member of Parliament. The mock burial symbolized the public’s rejection of hefty perks that the outgoing members of Parliament were demanding as a send-off package; the 10th Parliament officially closed on Jan. 15.
The members of Parliament had awarded themselves a lucrative package including 9.5 million shillings ($108,758) each and a guarantee of a state burial, however the send-off package was rejected by Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.
The mock state burial was also meant to signify the end of one era and the birth of another, with presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013.
Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at www.ricfrancis.org.
Recently I was online viewing the portfolios of legendary photographers Roy DeCarava, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier Bresson. I marveled at their artistic and documentary oriented bodies of work. I’m an independent photojournalist, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and I appreciate the work of photographers who combine documentary with an artistic vision. Seemingly past generations of photographers could document communities, with an eye towards spontaneity and creativity, without the challenges faced by photographers today. Undoubtedly they too had to deal with the occasional citizen who would just as well have tarred and feathered a photographer than be photographed.
Today, disturbingly, such an attitude is embraced by far too many. It’s not so much that photographers are viewed as annoying, there’s a widespread opinion of photographers as security threats. The public, and law enforcement officials, have become increasingly suspicious of our actions. While paranoia rules so too does misunderstanding. No person taking photographs with criminal intent would blatantly lay on their stomach or stand on a bench (photographers are always searching for a good angle) on a public street and spend hours exposing themselves for all to see. A would-be bad guy surveying a building, to commit an act of terrorism, would discreetly do so using a cellphone camera.
Digital camera technology has ushered in an era in which there is an ease to taking quick point and shoot photographs, and many people do so. However for any photographer who works in a documentary style these can be difficult times. Going out to photograph unposed and candid moments invites not just suspicion, but confrontation or even assault. Recently after spending two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I decided to return to Nairobi via bus (1081 miles); I even hitchhiked on the back of Kenyan military vehicle. I made three overnight stays in small towns along the way so it took three days to arrive in Nairobi. From the start it was apparent that taking photographs was an invitation for trouble: at an outdoor bus station I was surrounded and confronted by approximately thirteen Ethiopian men (they appeared to be private citizens), who took issue with me photographing the early morning activity of buses and people coming and going. One man shouted in English, “no photos!” The situation felt unnecessarily tense and unsafe but eventually, with assistance from an English and Amharic speaking bystander, I got them to calm down and go away. This set the tone for the entire trip. Consequently, I had to take photographs zone focusing (estimating the distance from my subjects) while shooting from my hip or discreetly from bus windows. Periodically I would ask permission to take photographs but more often than not was refused or money was demanded. Upon my return to Nairobi I exchanged emails with my ex-wife about the experience, and she reminded me about the long history of foreigners painting unfavorable portrayals of Africans. Indeed, peoples of Third World countries are sensitive to outsiders not only telling their stories – from a Western perspective – but profiting as well. Undoubtedly they’re also worried about strangers committing acts of terrorism. All of which I can understand but it was a frustrating and unnecessarily confrontational experience just the same.
It would be easy to dismiss the problems I experienced as symbolic of living in a region where the rights of photojournalist have not long been respected. However photojournalist in the United States, and elsewhere in the Western world, experience similar problems. Security issues have dramatically altered the manner in which people perceive threats. Such is the nature of the world in which we live. It’s a world in which concerns about safety increasingly clash with basic freedoms. “Those who would sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither,” stated Benjamin Franklin. His words are as apt today as they were during the American revolutionary war.
During my ordeal at the Ethiopian bus station I was told that someone in the crowd suggested I could be a spy. The accuser lacked commonsense. It goes without saying that there are militant groups and unstable individuals who aim to inflict harm upon others. Nevertheless, democratic societies cannot permit themselves to become open-aired prisons in which self-appointed guardians, or law enforcement officials, can prohibit the right of individuals to take photographs, on a public street, be it in Ethiopia, Kenya or the U.S. The body of work created by photographers of yesteryear provided an important historical, cultural and artistic archive of our collective past. Unhampered access to public places, foreign or otherwise, must remain so for the benefit of future generations.
The streets leading to Shalom High Places Pre-School (a private school) are unpaved and lined with poorly constructed buildings in the Eastlands section of Nairobi, Kenya. The pre-school is housed on the ground floor of a three-story apartment building. It has no lights and consists of three small classrooms: a baby class (2-3 year olds), nursery (4 year olds) and pre-unit (5-6 year olds).
Every morning 70 students attend classes where they are taught, according to teacher Nancy Vivian Obanda, 30, the national curriculum (the same syllabus as government schools). However, she’s quick to add that “as a private early childhood development school our quality of education is superior to the government schools.” Consequently, she explains, “we need to expand the school because of parental demand. Many parents don’t believe the government can provide the same level of attention we give their children.”
The students at Shalom High Places are like children most anywhere: enthusiastic, eager to learn and playful. Their high pitched and melodic voices are incorporated into the learning experience as they regularly cheer one another after answering a question: “Well done, well done, try again another day, keep up a very good girl (boy).” As this is sung the child being cheered will place her/his hands on their hips and rock both head and hips to the chorus. “It helps make learning fun for them. They’re very young so you can’t teach them like the bigger kids. Singing helps them to stay interested in the syllabus,” said Obanda.
Shalom High Places is an informal school that offers tremendous potential in the way of education, giving the children a solid foundation to move on to secondary school.
In Kenya, school enrollment levels drop dramatically after the primary level (eighth grade). Since 2003 primary level education has been free and compulsory in Kenya (at government schools). This has greatly increased school enrollment and raised the literacy rate with it. Though stricken with poverty and hardships the people of Kenya are generally literate. Sadly many families can’t afford secondary school because tuitions must be paid. At Shalom High Places parents pay 450 shillings (approximately $5.40 US) per month for tuition.
Although primary school education is compulsory there are few public schools in Nairobi’s overflowing slums. Consequently thousands of children are squeezed out of the formal education system. Non-formal schools have sprung up to fill the gap. Unfortunately many of these are underfunded and understaffed. At Shalom High Places their concerns center around the need for computers, books and play materials, according to teacher Obanda.
Just before nap-time the nursery class is given small amounts of play dough to occupy themselves as their teacher, Cecilia Muringi, test students three at a time. “I can’t test the entire class at once because they would just play with and tear or stain the paperwork.” The youngsters are quick to take advantage of their teacher’s preoccupation with testing. However she’s up to the multitasking challenge, issuing warnings and an occasional slap on the wrist. She has a firm yet playful manner with the students.
Despite the occasional problems that arise during the school day the atmosphere at the pre-school is supportive, energetic and stimulating. The children eagerly participate and crave the opportunity to step to the front of the class to be cheered by their classmates: “Well done, well done…”
In Peru Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the country on the second Sunday of each May. Peruvian mothers are honored with family meals, parties and showered with gifts.
There is a particularly popular location where Peruvians gather to socialize, over food and drinks, in honor of their mothers: the cemetery. Thousands gather at cemeteries in celebration of their deceased moms. Such was the case at The Angel Cemetery in the Barrios Altos section of Lima, Peru.
Just outside the gates of the cemetery the streets were alive with vendors selling flowers and heart-shaped “Feliz Dia Mama” (Happy Mother’s Day) balloons, to a throng of family members, young and old. The air was filled with warmth and laughter as women, children and men entered the cemetery and sought out the grave sites of their mothers. A common sight is that of men balanced on large ladders set up against multi-level mausoleums; they’re hired by families to clean and place flowers as well as balloons on hard-to-reach graves.
While for some visiting the cemetery is a solitary event, for others it is a social gathering used to catch up on the happenings of each other’s lives as they celebrate memories of their deceased mothers.
Visitors to The Angel Cemetery make their way to the burial sites of their mothers.
Evelyn Bravo Mascaro, 18, left, her mother Rosa Luz Mascaro, 40, center, and Maria Soledad Mascaro, 55, pay respect to their mother (Evelyn’s grandmother).
Margarita Taxa Segundino, 70, places flowers on the mausoleum of her mother.
Anna Maria Ruiz, left, Johnny Ruiz Fernandez, second to left, Zoila Angelica Ruiz, right-foreground, their father Wideman Ruiz Bueno, center-right, and Carlos Bustamante Ruiz (Zoila’s son) celebrate in memory of their mother (Widiman’s wife).
Visitors come and go just outside the entrance of the cemetery.
A woman takes flowers to her mother’s mausoleum.
Additional photography projects by Ric Francis can be viewed at www.ricfrancis.org.