The other day an old lady in a village I visited, probably in her 90s, approached me and made the following plea: “My son” she set off, “please appeal to that man called GLOBAL, to have pity on us. Things have got very bad and we understand he is responsible. Please appeal to him for us the poor”.
That must have drawn laughter from your lungs. But I bet you it is no funny business. It is the thing that probably poses the biggest threat to stability in the developing world today. Even the United Nations has warned about the threat the current global food shortage and soaring prices pose to poor countries such as Sierra Leone.
But back to that serious fun, and in case you need reminding here it is. The issue of the new word to the vocabulary of the Sierra Leonean is reminiscent of the days of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council in 1997/8. Then the buzz, or may be anathematic, word was “international community”. As if it was a human being, educated and illiterate people alike, were talking about the “International Community” which had disapproved of the seizure of power and imposed sanctions and embargo on the country.
This time it is not sanctions! It is not an embargo! If anything, it is God and the unkindness of mankind that are the cause. Drought and other natural disasters coupled with man’s preference for bio fuel, among other reasons, have caused us to look helplessly while our families starve.
But also responsible are the misplaced priorities of retrogressive African governments who do not think food is an inalienable right of their people, relying instead on imported rice. In a country such as ours where rain, sunshine and arable land are the envy of most other countries, it is a shame what is visiting us now.
The current global shortage of food and the attendant rise in the price of rice in Sierra Leone are a recipe for trouble. It is a similar view held by the country’s foreign minister, Zainab Bangura.
In a somewhat brilliant move, Mrs Bangura has beaten all her African counterparts and gone hi-tech to save the country, and even the rest of the continent, from further starvation. I hope her message reaches the ears of even an ant.
In an impassioned plea, Mrs Bangura has posted a video message on the Internet appealing to world leaders to help Sierra Leone’s poor and indeed those of other African countries with food aid.
In the message, she pleads with visitors to the campaign website, AVAAZ – and they are in their hundreds of millions especially in the developed world – to appeal to their leaders to increase their contribution to the UN World Food Programme to be able to feed the poor. She says 70% of Sierra Leoneans are below the poverty line, and warns that between May and September this year, 90% of her compatriots will not be able to afford a bag of rice, the country’s staple.
“That will not only increase the level of poverty but it means it will be huge starvation problem in my country which will create a lot of political instability”.
She continues, “…a country that is coming from war has the potential to return back to war and violence because people cannot feed themselves.” She adds, “My appeal is for you to talk to your governments and ask them please, please to support the campaign … to make sure they put more money into feeding poor Africans.”
This, no doubt is a laudable and fantastic enterprise by the minister of foreign affairs. Having said that, I am concerned about a few things: the video, showing the minister making the appeal does not have the country’s flag anywhere in the background. This is needed not just for authenticity reasons, but also for reasons of national “representativeness”.
Also, despite the innovation this brings, I wonder how many Sierra Leoneans knew before reading this piece that the minister had embarked on such an enterprise. Mrs Bangura does not seem to treat the local media with any seriousness or respect. After all she carved a niche for herself, thanks to For Di People and several other local newspapers. Such an appeal, I think, should have been launched officially at a press conference in Freetown. I would have said on a farm in a village but for the lack of technology there.
Talking about a farm, Mrs Bangura’s appeal, if I am correct, is for the short term. The longer-term and more sustainable solution lies with us. Our government and the people. But the farmers are themselves hungry. Last weekend I visited Macrogba where a mechanical engineer-turned-farmer is struggling to grow rice, ground nuts and cassava to feed the nation. Abdul Fullah is farming on a 100-acre land in the most basic of ways.
There is no government tractor available so he has had to rely on a privately owned one. Even that is not forthcoming because of some engine trouble. If eventually he gets the tractor, he will need anywhere between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000 to work on the farm. That excludes what he will have to pay for community labour and feeding for these labourers.
Worse, if he does not get the tractor on time, and with the rains gathering, he will forfeit all the energy and resources spent on brushing and burning. And he is one of several hundred farmers going through similar woes with their hoes and cutlasses. They also need fertilizers and seed.
Probably for good measure and despite the fact that the farmers pay for 47% of the cost of tractors, the ministry of agriculture has a policy to make available a tractor only to corporative that farm on 4 acres of land and above. The ministry is arm strung with just about ten percent of the number of tractors available. So the next appeal should be for a more sustainable assistance. And for God’s sakes we should be able to buy more tractors ourselves.
Since the annual budget for the fiscal year allocated a tiny fraction of 1.6% to agriculture, a supplementary budget should be considered to address the issue of farming in a more serious, honest and sincere manner.
And by the way, in case you want to visit AVAAZ site to watch and listen to the foreign minister’s appeal, this is the link: http://www.avaaz.org/en/world_food_crisis/
There is also a petition on the webpage to sign, to force the leading industrialised countries to treat more seriously the threat the issue of food crisis poses. I hope the old lady’s message to Mr GLOBAL has reached him through this piece. [email protected] is my email address By Umaru Fofana