A present day hog establishment in the United States. Is this farming?

Reminder: The next three week Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities  International Training in Musanze, Rwanda, begins on February 3. If anyone is interested in attending, please contact me at davidzarembka@gmail.com.

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American exceptionalism usually refers to that amazing form of government established at the end of eighteenth century by a group of white males, many large slave owners that made the United States, well, “exceptional” and superior to all other countries in the world. More formally Wikipeida defines it as “an ideology holding the United States as unique among nations in positive or negative connotations, with respect to its ideas of democracy and personal freedom…Another theme is the sense the United States’ history and mission give it a superiority over other nations.”

Why would I be writing a Report from Kenya about small-scale farming on American exceptionalism? The reason is that this is one of the major factors destroying small-scale farming in Africa and elsewhere. Let me explain.

I have found that many Americans consider, not just the form of government, but everything Americans do as superior to that done by other people in the world. I have observed this attitude time after time in American visitors to East Africa. When talking with Africans about issues, including agriculture, their conversation, based on the assumption that what America does is so much better, Africans and that everyone in the world should adopt American methods. This includes agricultural development, i.e., the replacement of the small-scale farmer with large commercial farmers using mechanization, hybrid seeds, fertilizers, insecticide and herbicides bought from gigantic companies. This is always couched with the rationalization that this is needed to feed the 9 to 10 billion people who will be living in the world in 2050.

This is a picture of a house being built on the side road to our house. About three or four months ago the owner put a fence around the property which has kept the cows, goats, and sheep from eating the grass. The grass inside has grown quite tall in that short time. Notice, though, that the grass on the road is short because it has been grazed by livestock. Therefore there is no need to mow the grass with polluting, noisy lawn mowers as is done in the United States.

A good number of years ago, the Rocky Mountain Institute released a study on the amount of methane cows produce. They took as their baseline the amount of methane that a grain-eating American cow produced. Note that cows are not grain eaters so the amount of methane they produce is increased by the abnormal grain fed to them in feedlots. They then estimated the number of cows in the world and concluded that cows are responsible for a high percentage of the methane produced in the world. I sent them a letter to the editor stating that cows in Africa are only one-third to one-fourth the size of American cows and moreover are grass-fed so don’t release methane from being fed grain. I then suggested that their total was perhaps four to five times too high. They did not publish my letter.

On a simpler level take bacon. When grain-fed bacon is fried in the United States, the resulting grease has to be poured out of the frying pan. Here in Kenya, bacon is so lean, that oil needs to be put in the frying pan in order for the bacon not to stick. Why should the world adopt the unhealthy American bacon? Wouldn’t it be better if Kenyan farmers taught the American how to raise lean, healthy bacon and pork?

Muslims don’t eat pork. Hindus don’t eat beef. Unlike some other people, American don’t eat horses or dogs. Kenyans don’t eat donkeys, but people in the Middle East do eat donkeys. This has led to two problems in Kenya as donkey abattoirs have opened to sell donkey meat to the Middle East. First donkeys are now being stolen to be sold to the abattoirs. Second with over 1000 donkeys being slaughter per day, there is fear that the abattoirs are decimating the donkey population in Kenya. The prize meat in Kenya is called in Swahili, myama choma, roasted goat meat. Since goat meat is the healthiest red meat and goats are browsers and are not fed on grain or growth hormones, I do not understand why Americans, the heaviest meat eaters in the world, are so adverse to eating goat — average annual consumption in the US is one quarter pound per person.

American commercial farming has many problems including soil erosion, pollution of air and water, unsustainable use of ground water, benefits going to large corporations rather than the farmers themselves, corn for ethanol and animal feed, and so. There are many articles on the internet that discuss the many problems of American agriculture. I will not discuss these major problems since a search on the internet will give the reader more than enough articles to read. American “experts”, in their worldwide evangelism of the wonders of American agriculture, promote large commercial farming in place of indigenous agriculture. Given the problems with American agriculture, why should it be promoted in other countries of the world?

The broiler chickens Tyson Foods plans on bringing to East Africa.

Donnie Smith, the former chief executive of Tyson Foods, the second largest food processor in the United States, is spearheading a gigantic scheme in Tanzania on a 500 acre plot on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The goal is in a few years to export 40 million to 50 million chicks per year to the sounding countries. According to Smith “It’s God’s plan”. He feels “impelled by his faith to feed the world’s poor.” The plan is to use expensive maize (corn) used to feed people to now feed chickens so that the middle class can have a tasteless chicken for dinner. This will undoubtedly raise the price of maize so that the poor in those countries will pay for those chicken dinners. I predict that this scheme will mostly fail. (See the Guardian article, ‘It’s God’s plan’: the man who dreams of bringing intensive chicken farming to Africa at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/27/its-gods-plan-the-man-who-dreams-of-bringing-intensive-chicken-farming-to-africa.)

The first problem is that the Americans think that they “know it all” and whatever they promote is the ultimate answer for world agriculture everywhere. If this were just academic, there would be no problem. The American experts have two major advantages. The first is that American government organizations such as US Aid for International Development (USAID) and many non-government organizations have lots of money, resources, well-educated staff who see it as their calling to introduce American agricultural methods to the African farmers. State department officials posted at US embassies are part of this lobby group which then controls the conversation.

The second advantage is that American corporations like Monsanto and Tyson Foods have the funds and interest to promote their products. This includes placing articles in the Kenyan papers by Western-educated Africans, frequently in their pay, about the virtues of their products. I have watched over the years as American companies have promoted GMO crops in Kenya as the answer to enhanced crop production. After many years GMO crops promotion, Kenya has finally agreed to allow GMO cotton crops to be planted. This is supposed to be a testing phase, but, since it is the GMO companies which will assess the results, I think the conclusion has already been determined.

The saving grace – it is interesting how I am using religious terminology in this Report, but this is because American exceptionalism is a secular religion – is that the vast majority of attempts to bring American commercial agriculture to Africa fail, sometimes spectacularly. Yet if the resources and efforts put into these failures were channeled into improving small-scale farming in Africa, the results would be significant and by increasing crop production benefit a large number of Africans.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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