"We have seen nothing but trouble since our economy was liberalized
under the structural adjustment policies demanded by the World Bank."
ZAMBIA FARMERS FOR FOOD
"How can I compete with subsidized farmers from the EU?
It has become cheaper for Zambia to import
than to buy crops grown at home."
No farmers, no food, no future
by Elizabeth Morrison, Nov 26, 2006
working and travelling in Zambia as part of CIDA's
Youth Internship Program
Sinazongwe, Zambia: No clouds are in sight. Heat rises from the road in undulating waves. It is hard to breath. Trucks heavy with seed rush toward rural fields and villagers talk of nothing but their hopes for their crops. Here, so far away from the brandishing frost of November, the planting season has begun.
The majority of Zambians are skilled farmers who pass their lives coaxing food out of red-tinged soil. They face many challenges. Fertilizer, tools and seeds are expensive, and crumbling infrastructure makes it difficult to transport goods.
Drought has led to successive crop failure, and many workers suffer from HIV/AIDS. The human toll is obvious. Last week, I perched by a roadside watching a group of young boys chasing the ever-present soccer ball. A few fell consistently behind the rest. Without pause, my companion explained: "Their bellies are swollen. They are too hungry to move quickly." Most of us are familiar with this image. We have seen pictures of skeletal bodies, have heard pleas to end the scourge. How many mothers have urged their offspring to consume unwanted dinner with reference to "the starving children in Africa?"
Most of us are not familiar with the stories of success. Aspects of the Zambian food system could be the envy of the world. Many farmers never use pesticides, and most crops are not genetically modified.
It is difficult to find an apple that has travelled 4,000 kilometres from Spain, wasting countless resources along the way. Those in favour of local, tasty food would be impressed. "The produce I grow is natural. When I eat city food it tastes of nothing," said Hillary Mwenba while picking chard at her farm. "I harvest my own vegetables and raise my own chickens. We rarely use chemicals."
These words echoed in my head as I shared a dinner with her family. The bright crunch of carrots demanded no spice; the meat fell smoothly off the bone. I have never had a better meal. How can people growing such wondrous food - people who have much to teach us about sustainable agriculture - suffer widespread famine and poverty? I have seen their hardship does not result from laziness. Rural Zambians rise at 4 a.m. and work continuously until at least nine at night.
A major cause of hunger is the difficult task of competing on the global market. Unfair trade policies and tariffs promoted by Western governments create large gaps in who can sell. Mwenba explained, "This way of life is good, but it is impossible to sell my harvest at a good price. The emphasis on global markets makes producing a living extremely difficult."
Her neighbour agreed, adding: "We have seen nothing but trouble since our economy was liberalized in the 1990s under the structural adjustment policies demanded by the World Bank. How can I compete with subsidized farmers from the EU? It has become cheaper for Zambia to import than to buy crops grown at home."
In other words, fewer people would be hungry if shifts in financial structures would allow southern nations, and their hard-working farmers, to compete fairly on the global market.
Some disagree, and claim privatization and foreign investment bring change. Yet, these things rarely help small-scale farmers. And, as a newly painted sign on the track to S'Malima reminded me: "No small farmer; no food; no future." This message is brilliant in its simplicity. We all eat. It makes sense to ensure that growers around the world earn a decent wage for their efforts. It makes sense to pursue policy that allows them to feed their families. Yet, global trade strategy makes it extremely challenging for rural Zambians.
The effects of trade inequalities are impossible to ignore: In almost every home I visited, I spotted UN food sacks tucked in cupboards or under bags of maize. "In case of disaster," stated Sinazongwe resident Mrs. Mtonga when she noticed my blank expression. The situation is ridiculous. Mtonga is not helpless, but intelligent and resourceful. Like most rural Zambians, she is proud to be a farmer.
Like those boys kicking soccer balls, she suffers because she is caught in the tangle of global economics. Consequently, the ache in her belly - and the full feeling in mine - is not right.
I wonder if I will forget these images when I return to Canada. I hope not. I hope that I will find some way to work with others for change. I hope someone, somewhere, will do something that helps convince our government to make trade fair. Soon clouds will cover the vast blue sky, breaking the exhausting heat. With policy change a distant illusion, I hope it will rain.
FOOD COMES FROM FARMERS and ENGINEERED FAMINE IN ZIMBABWE and PLANTING POTATOES and POTATOES PLOUGHED UNDER and TAKE NOT OUR DAILY BREAD and FOOD CONTROL and WORLD FOOD BANK and FEEDLOTS INSTEAD OF FARMS and PREVENTIVE KILLING and FACTORY FARMING COVER-UP and MAD COW TERROR and FEEDING FREEDOM'S FOES
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
website: www.orwelltoday.com & email: firstname.lastname@example.org