Jon Qwelane

'Pass me my pap and tripe'

2008-07-14 08:23

Jon Qwelane

There is a very good idea that I read about the other day, coming from Katibougou.

Now just where the hell is that, I hear you ask.

Katibougou happens to be a small agricultural market village in Mali, West Africa.

From what I read, it would appear that the village and its inhabitants-cum-activists may have hit on a very good but not new idea to survive in these days of rocketing food prices.

The villagers put up a cheeky counter to the G8 summit taking place in Japan by setting up an impromptu market of sorts where loads of locally produced food items such as mangoes and rice, as well as clothes and artworks, were on display.

The idea was basically to tell the American, European and Japanese government leaders - but the main message obviously being to the African people themselves - that the debilitating sky-high food prices and their consequent unaffordability could be conquered quite easily.

One Oumar Diakate, representing the textile workers, pointed to a pile of mangoes and scoffed: "These mangoes are food, so where is the shortage? The problem is that people still prefer to eat what comes from abroad, instead of local produce."

Another villager decried the northern or European countries for not opening their markets to African produce, while yet another claimed that Europeans actually did plenty of business quietly or secretly with selected farmers who produced what the northerners needed but could not produce themselves.

Not an earth-shattering story this, I agree, but it offered plenty of food for thought, not to put too fine a point on it.

Land ownership

In Mali and other African states, land ownership is hardly a problem, so the Katibougou exercise can be repeated over and over again.

Here in SA we do not have that luxury, because the question of land ownership remains a huge problem.

Talking about markets is very tricky and shows up the hypocrisy of the wealthy states in setting barriers to the poorer nations to restrict their ability to trade in the so-called "global village" that the world has allegedly become.

The belief that the markets should be free is a contradiction in terms in such a "global village" scenario, because such "freedom of the markets" is not genuine at all if it still involves trade barriers.

As for Diakite's "problem", namely, that "people still prefer to eat what comes from abroad instead of local produce", that comment is not exactly true in South Africa: nearly 90% of what we eat in this country is produced locally - yet the cost remains a killer.

The only major staple for large groups of our citizens - Chinese, white people and South Africans of Indian origin - which the country imports from overseas is rice; the rest of what everybody else eats is grown locally.

The Malians are among the continent's largest producers of mangoes, but we do produce a lot of the seasonal fruit ourselves, and many more other fruit varieties.

Those who "still prefer to eat what comes from abroad" can hardly complain about excessive prices.

Though, to be fair, their preferences must not be used to bankrupt them, no matter what arguments can be made for freedom of the markets.

Now please pass me my pap and tripe, thank you!

  • Jon Qwelane's column is published each week on News24, courtesy of Jon Qwelane and the editor of Sunday Sun, which originally carried the article.

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