How the US Sold Africa to Multinationals Like Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, PepsiCo and Others
Continued from previous page
Across Kenya's many different ethnic groups, provinces and ecological zones, farmers agree on what they need most, and it isn't help from Monsanto or Wal-Mart. It's water. In arid and semi-arid areas, lack of water has always been an issue. But at least the two rainy seasons, the long rains between March and June, and the short rains between October and December, were consistent. During each rainy period, Kenyan farmers would grow a crop that had to last until the next harvest. But, according to farmer Florence Ogendi, the rains changed about five years ago. First the short rains became unreliable, and now they can't even count on the long rains. In her area, the long rains used to come in late February, but this year they did not arrive until April.
Sometimes, water that used to be shared by all is now taken or polluted by a powerful few. Near Kitengela, an enormous flower farm has drilled wells to irrigate its crops, which are for export. With so much water going to irrigate flowers, the nearby Isinya River now runs dry. Elsewhere, Lake Naivasha suffers the same problem, also due to flower farms. And a day after Nderitu took his goats to graze near a local river, all five goats were dead. The autopsy revealed the deaths were from pesticides. Nderitu blames the enormous Del Monte pineapple plantation just across the river from where his goats grazed.
Access to land is another issue for Kenyan farmers. While farmers like James try to coax a living from a fraction of an acre, nearby Del Monte grows pineapples on several thousand acres. Locals report that they pay their workers a mere $2.40 a day, less than the minimum wage, but actually more than the $2.05 per day the other large farms in the area pay. Mwangi, who lives within sight of Del Monte's land, feels ill whenever they spray pesticides. The land could likely support more farmers, and more successful farmers, if it wasn't concentrated in the hands of a few corporations.
And one more request: Would the industrialized world please stop wreaking havoc with the climate! Sidney Quntai, a Maasai man, says, “In the last ten years... the climate pendulum shifted. Just took a drastic turn.” The Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists, relying entirely on raising cattle, sheep and goats in Kenya's arid and semi-arid areas. The droughts and flash floods of the last decade have brought invasive weeds and new livestock diseases to his people, and some families have had their herds wiped out entirely between the droughts and diseases of the last decade.
The new G8 scheme to help African farmers does nothing to address the problems that are at the core of hunger and malnutrition. More likely, it will serve only to further poverty and inequality across the continent. The elites of the first world work together with the elites of the third world in the name of helping peasant farmers, but it nobody consults the peasant farmers themselves. Perhaps Obama could spend a week or two living with his Kenyan family members to find out what they actually want and need before he suggests another program to “help” the people of Africa.
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. .