As G8 leaders are shaking hands over food security deals with the private sector, patting themselves on the back, and smiling to flashing cameras that will transport their sureness, their smugness to media all over the world – I’m in my garden, pulling carrots.
The G8 leaders, as they say in Africa, are Big Men and Women.
Me, in my garden, barefoot, pulling carrots into the world – I feel small.
Small. I’m trying to imagine her daughter’s small body as she drove home in the back of the ambulance to the village. Was the child swaddled in cloth? Was she laying inside a small coffin? Her daughter was only eight months old, but she weighed the same as a new-born baby. Her arms, legs, limbs, frail. Her eyes, big and bulging. I remembered saying to the mother, “She’s beautiful.” But I was lying. She didn’t even appear human. The mother, just turned eighteen and a child herself, told me she had no hope for herself, for the child, for the future. She had come to town, a last attempt to save her malnourished child, who was so hungry, so sick, she lost appetite altogether.
I saw the porridge spit up on the child’s face, I heard the cry. I saw a young mother, too young, with burden all over her brow, bent and holding a spoon, waiting. They told me when they reached her village with the child’s body, there was no one home. Her family, unaware, had gone to dig in the garden. I wondered, how small she must have felt, waiting alone on a church pew. A child’s body, weightless as a dead bird, on her lap.
Small. Small bodies, like blots of colour, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, staining a vast canvas of green. Women seen from a distance, digging on the hill’s slant. Heaving a hand-hoe up and down to clear the land. So many women in a row. On Thursdays, they dig sweet potatoes. Fridays, they’re weeding a field of sorghum. Saturdays, they’re planting cabbage. Sundays, they’re in church, praying to be cleansed of sins they never committed. Praying for salvation, praying for rain.
Small. A small return passed from the hand of the middleman to the farmer. He’s come through the village to buy cabbages, his truck-bed already stacked with round heads purchased from farmers in the village before. The farmer is asking for more money per cabbage. The middleman just shrugs. No loss to his pocket. Let the farmer hold onto her cabbages. But the farmer notices the outer leaves, soft and wilted, and has no other alternative to transport product to market. So the farmer sells. The middleman, in the truck, pulls away, headed for the village on the other side of the hill where another farmer waits, already calculating her coming losses.
Small. The size of a child’s stomach, shrunken as a raisin, because he hasn’t eaten breakfast and he knows he won’t eat lunch. And yet he’s crammed on a bench with a sea of classmates and trying to concentrate his eyes above to the blackboard to copy the English lesson down into his notebook. Never mind that he hears his teacher’s lecture as the sound of the ocean, coming and going. Never mind that his parents sold every last cabbage to pay for his school fees. Never mind that his government boasts the country has achieved Universal Primary Education.
Never mind that, according to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, he is a statistic for success. Never mind that his chance of graduating from Primary Seven will be about 10% because the 299 other classmates he began with in Level One will thin, dwindle down to a class size of 30 students.
He is hungry. He can’t remember how to conjugate the past tense, but he probably has a good idea of what his future holds.
Small. Just a small plot of land leftover now. She’s old now and she’s sold almost all of her land over the years, save for some to feed her four grandchildren. But the land is good and giving, located in the lowlands, where the moist soils can support peas, sorghum, maybe a crop of maize – something she can sell for food, oil, soap, some basics for raising the children of her own adult child who died several years ago. It’s enough. It’s not much. But a grandmother, on her land, is raising her grandchildren alone.
Small. A small price to pay – sex – for money, for food. In town, her body has become her land, her capital. In town, there’s no garden. There’s no job for someone who only reached Level Six of Primary.
But there’s a long dusty road, and a truck stop with men who’ve hours to kill before morning comes and they load up food crops to cross the border, headed for another hungry land.
Small. Is there enough small profit to buy the seeds that self-terminate after harvest? Is there enough to buy the pesticide that the seed’s become thirsty for? Is there enough to drink back the pesticide to put an end to one’s poverty? One’s suffering? One’s debt to a system, rather business, of global food production that has no understanding, let alone the will to understand, what it means to be small?
Big men and women at the G8 and their big ties to big business with big economic interests are proposing big solutions to fighting malnutrition. Big man, Bill Gates, is there ‘in spirit’ and he’s pledging half a billion dollars to put the seeds of vitamin-enriched carrots into the hands of people, the same seeds bred by big companies, like Monsanto and Cargill, who are also ‘metaphorically’ at the table, saturating the agenda, and laying down 3 billion dollars in the name of the kid who’s parents are too poor to send him to school with lunch, except they don’t know the kid’s name, or his parent’s name, and they don’t know the name of what caused his hunger in the first place – poverty – and the bottom line is that they don’t care to because there’s big money to be made in the name of [insert development problem here]: nutrition.
Says Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved (2011), in a recent article on the G8 that was published in The Guardian:
“The vision offered by G8 leaders will be one in which business needs to be free to “modernise” agriculture, particularly in Africa, by being able to buy land, sell chemicals, privatise genetic material….But remember that these interventions aren’t being sold as colonialism. They are the bold strokes of the new alliance for food security and nutrition. This alliance – between business and government – was launched when the US led the G8 last year. To restate: this is an alliance to end food insecurity tendered by the US, a country where one in six people – 50 million citizens – is food insecure”(Patel, 2013).
In George Monbiot’s recent article, “Africa, let us help – just like in 1884” he writes:
“David Cameron’s purpose at the G8, as he put it last month, is to advance “the good of people around the world”. Or, as Rudyard Kipling expressed it during the previous scramble for Africa: “To seek another’s profit, / And work another’s gain … / Fill full the mouth of Famine / And bid the sickness cease”. Who could doubt that the best means of doing this is to cajole African countries into a new set of agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets?”
So what’s coming for the world’s population of small? Will the G8’s “army of development technicians – free of democracy, accountability or history” (Patel, 2013) march into Africa to solve the issue of malnutrition, or aggravate the very problem they set out to resolve vialand and resource exploitation?
What is the future of small in a world controlled by big?
In my garden, I am small. What do I have against the G8 and Monsanto and academics who claim the Green Revolution is the gleaming way forward for development countries?
What do I have, but a basket-full of carrots and small stories about small people…and small ideas for small changes…
But in a world of big, who will listen?