Change, though often perceived as a business threat, can bring unexpected good if one anticipates and prepares for it. FOTOSEARCH

Change, though often perceived as a business threat, can bring unexpected good if one anticipates and prepares for it. FOTOSEARCH

The Baganda have a saying that goes: It is survival, not bravery, that makes a man climb a thorny tree.

This is the situation that farmers of miraa (khat), the green gold of Meru, are facing. There is a stark possibility that they may lose the source of their livelihood all because the UK government has criminalised the trade and possession of the crop.

But here is the million dollar question: “Did they see it coming?”

Truth is, most organisations are capable of accurately identifying potential crisis triggers. This is the first critical first step toward preparedness.

Smart companies conduct “what-if?” scenarios. They provide a framework with which to anticipate events. They build early warning systems to get a head start on crisis resolution or even better, crisis avoidance.

For our farmers, the first red flag was the ban of export of miraa to the Netherlands earlier this year. The second was an attempt by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) to have the crop classified as a drug.

The pre-cursor to the ban in the UK was a recommendation by their Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2005 that the use of the twig be discouraged, citing health and social problems. The report was adopted by the UK government in early 2006.

The writing was clear on the wall. It was a matter of when, and not if, miraa was going to be prohibited in the UK as it has been in Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, USA and 17 European Union countries.

A situation such as this can make people feel they’ve lost control over their territory. The sense of self-determination is often the first thing to go when people are faced with a potential change coming from someone else.

They will often prefer to remain in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t.”

Confidence is essential during a crisis such as this. Knowing that you and your organisation are prepared to face the unknown gives one considerable confidence.

We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Change can be perceived as a threat to the organisation and organisational culture. Culture binds people into a cohesive group.

Yet change can be a sign of healthy business growth. Many factors, both internal and external, bring about change.

Fluctuations in the market, the economy, the labour force, technology, legislation, competition and certainly globalisation are just a few of the external factors that can influence a business.

Change is often necessary to ensure business survival.

Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once summarised the problem of planning in the face of uncertainty in his famous phrase “unknown unknowns” — things that can have a big effect on us that we don’t even realise we don’t know about.

Miraa has long been an important cultural crop in Meru County, particularly for the Igembe and Tigania communities.

My two cents of advice to them would be — whatever risks they face, they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the unexpected can bring good as well as bad. Who’s to say that alongside the future risks they face, they won’t also find rewards they weren’t expecting, too?

Change is always resisted because it can hurt. The best thing one can do is to be honest, transparent, fast, and fair. Then and only then can you minimise discomfort.

Mr Waswa is the managing director of Outdoors Africa. Email: waswa@outdoorsafrica.co.ke