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Tales out of Africa

By: Charley Andrews, Hammock Hollow Farm

I guess one of the things I really like about the VOCA volunteer consultation assignments is being able to be whisk away from my farm after a season of toil half away around the globe, many times to a beautiful place, to work with farmers dealing with like or different problems.  Somewhat like a working vacation, although after a busy season doing nothing sounds particularly grand, however for me it becomes drab very soon. I really enjoy lending a hand to fellow agronomists around the globe.

In the last six years, I have traveled to three different African countries on many different volunteer projects. All have been rewarding, however this last project in western Kenya has been the most trying.kenya map

The setting was idyllic, my dwelling a cottage at a country club in the highlands above 2000 meters elevation with cool mornings and evenings, temperate days and a relaxed Kenyan attitude similar to the Mexican manana profile.  However, underlying the surface was turmoil of disease, malaria and typhoid, that made a deadly presence felt at the local level of farmer/rural dweller to compound his current problems of little rainfall as their farming season began.

I was located at Kitale, a highland agricultural center that is the maize (corn) belt of Kenya and was working with a small seed company in a marketing project. The company sold seed to many poor rural farmers of several tribal cultures cheaper than the main government supported seed company, Kenya Seed Company. The whole area was planted basically in maize (corn) as a monoculture and at the moment it grew quite well.  Besides the regions deadly diseases, the deprived rural farmer has very low hopes of having to deal with a new problem of GMO seeds imported from abroad, not intended to help him as much as to add to the bottom line of such companies as Monsanto and Pioneer Seed corporations and the likes of such trans-international agricultural corporations. Over production in good seasons leads to depressingly low prices for the farmer so what are these corporations really trying to market?

I saw on the news a blip on Zambia, a small east central African country north of Zimbabwe, where there was a warehouse filled with thousands of tons of genetically altered corn donated by the U.S. for famine aid. The Zambian government refused release of the corn for human consumption to the famine victims stating health concerns. The commentator reported that people in the USA had been consuming this GMO type of corn for years. The only GMO corn I knew about that was unknowing and illegally consumed by in the U.S. was the Starlink stink (Taco Bell tortillas). As soon as it became publicly known, it was taken off the market by the FDA.

Who is paying for this GMO corn sent to famine-ridden third world areas for the poor to consume? Are the producing seed companies donating them and paying for transportation, or is it our tax dollars paying for this collusion of trying to feed grain, illegal for human consumption in our country, to starving people of the undeveloped countries in this world?

Hearsay from an informed individual that sits on a formal environmental committee of scientist in Nairobi that opposes the use of GMO herbicide resistant gene maize seed, developed by Monsanto and is in the process of being licensed for sale by Pioneer Seed, explained that there is a plan to lobby the Kenyan government by Monsanto to legalize the GMO- RR gene maize seed marketed by these trans-national corporations and then the seed companies will supply maize farmers with their first season of herbicide free.  The herbicide coming from another third world country that has banned its use because of environmental concerns! In a time of shaky economic ethics, where does the greedy concern for bottom line end and concern for our fellow beings and our planet begin? Clearly there is a line.

I’d like to quote someone I’ve always held in high esteem and has certainly had the health of the land and its people at heart:

“We need to have in mind economic models of sustainability that are based in nature or in primitive cultures, so that proposals to help farmers cope with a bad situation can be evaluated against some standard of permanence. The point is we need an economic order that respects biological and cultural diversity.”  Wes Jackson: Sculptures in Unhewn Stone.

Charley Andrews is the owner of Hammock Hollow Herb Farm, a certified organic specialty farm that grows vegetables and 60 different types of culinary herbs for upscale restaurants.  Hammock Hollow Herb Farm is located in Island Grove, a remote hardwood hammock with lots of wildlife and 20 miles from Gainesville.