Zambia’s Maize Paradox: Land-poor Farmers in a Land-rich Country
When I saw the photo of the little girl in Mutanga, Zambia, I cried. It was the kind of image that tugs at Western bleeding-heartstrings to loosen their purse-strings. It had that emotional effect on me, which was incongruous because I’d taken the photo myself. And the girl was was one of seven children on a relatively successful small farm. (Excerpted from Eating Tomorrow, Chapter 4)
When I saw the photo of the little girl in Mutanga, Zambia, I cried. There she sat in the dirt, knees tucked up to her chin, head in her hands, barefoot, maybe nine years old. She looked down into the red dust in front of her, expressionless. She wore a green skirt and a second-hand hooded sweatshirt. She looked poor, but worse than that, she looked abandoned.
It was the kind of photo that passes for “poverty porn,” the sort of image that unscrupulous aid agencies use to tug at Western bleeding-heartstrings to loosen their purse-strings. It had that emotional effect on me, which was incongruous because, in fact, I’d taken the photo myself. And the girl was no orphan in a refugee camp. She was one of seven children on a relatively successful small farm in Zambia.
Her name was Machila. Her father, Wilfred Monga, was showing us his farm, and he had a lot to show. He was a successful crop and livestock farmer, small-scale to be sure, but not by Zambian standards. He had 12 acres of land, which he’d planted in a mixture of crops — maize, sweet potato, peanuts, vegetables — with some left for pasture for his 100 cattle. In the dry season, he even had access to village lands for grazing. Goats and chickens roamed his compound, which had several small buildings, some with concrete floors and walls, around a dirt courtyard. Paddocks for his cattle lay just outside the perimeter, their soils rich in manure to spread on his crops.
Wilfred said the family mainly ate the crops and used the animals for milk and cash. He told us they didn’t slaughter the cattle for beef. “For us, a cow is milk and money.” When the family needs cash, he sells a cow, or maybe a goat. His daughter presumably got a regular diet of milk and perhaps eggs, in addition to the usual nshima. She probably also got “village chicken” (a local breed, highly valued over supermarket poultry) and maybe…