Farmers are the Foot Soldiers in the War Against Hunger
Motlatsi Musi: Pimville, South Africa
Farmers are the foot soldiers in the war on hunger, and that never has been more apparent than it is in today in Ukraine.
As fighter jets soar overhead, bombs drop on cities, and tanks battle for towns, heroic farmers like Kees Huizinga are in the fields, trying to plant a new crop. They’re putting seeds in the ground and trying to coax them to life in some of the most difficult of circumstances imaginable.
We all have a stake in whether they make it to harvest.
These farmers stand on the frontlines of food security. Their success or failure will affect the whole planet.
Their calm, determination, and resilience in the storms of war is amazing and inspiring.
It also reminds me of my younger days, in the 1970s, when I was just starting out as a farmer in South Africa. My country didn’t suffer from a foreign invasion. Instead, we were at war with ourselves, over the brutal system of racial apartheid.
My mother was an anti-apartheid activist. I worked as a farm hand, driving tractors during the day, so I could take care of my siblings. We were homeless. We stayed with neighbors and moved around a lot. Times were tough.
The work had its challenges and dangers, too. We labored in fields riddled with landmines. At any moment, a tractor could roll over one of these deadly devices and trigger an explosion.
Those were the most immediate hazards. We also dealt with severe shortages, brought on by sanctions against South Africa’s regime. The price of fuel rose. The government responded by restricting its sale and use. Petrol stations shut down their fuel pumps at 6 pm. They stayed closed on weekends. In a move to promote fuel efficiency, speed limits on highways dropped to 70 kilometers per hour. (That's less than 45 miles per hour.)
Even so, we managed to produce successful crops.
I believed in the fight against apartheid. Although I didn’t wear a military uniform, I understood my role. It required risks and demanded hardship, but it was worth it. We won our victory.
I also saw that farmers can grow food under the worst circumstances.
That’s what gives me hope for Kees and his fellow farmers in Ukraine. They work under tremendous pressure. They suffer from limited resources. If Russians show up on their land, they may even face disaster.
Yet they go about their work.
Their fight is our fight, too. We live in a global economy, and although inflation was already underway before the Russian invasion, the war in Ukraine has made the cost of everything go up.
On my farm, where I grow corn, beans, and potatoes and also raise pigs and cows, I’m paying a lot more for gas and fertilizer.
Food security everywhere is at risk. The FAO Food Price Index, a measurement used by the UN to track food costs, has hit record levels this calendar year. Food prices between February and March jumped by 12.6 percent. Even if our eating habits haven’t changed, we’re paying a lot more for what we consume.
As this war between two agricultural nations drags on, things could grow a lot worse. The FAO says that 26 nations rely on Ukraine and Russia for half of their wheat imports. Many of them are in the dry regions of Africa, my continent, where food security is a problem even in good times.
Now we’re watching another food-security crisis unfold. This easily could lead to political unrest in places such as Egypt, which imports 80 percent of its wheat from the warring countries, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
We should all hope that the war ends soon. That’s the best solution to our troubles.
Meanwhile, farmers everywhere are adjusting their own planting strategies based on demand and scarcity. We’ll continue to do what we can to provide the world with the food it needs.
Kees will do it in an actual combat zone. The rest of us will wage a war on hunger the only way we know how, as foot soldiers whose best weapon is a farmer’s resilience.
Motlatsi Musi grows maize, beans, potatoes, pecan nuts and breeds pigs and cows in South Africa. He is the 2017 Kleckner Award recipient and a member of the Global Farmer Network. www.globalfarmernetwork.org