Monday, June 28, 2010

The Canadian theme continues

By strange coincidence, I received this picture earlier today, showing the first harvest of Hass avocados from one of AAC's investees, the well-named Africado, owner of the Kifufu estate in Northern Tanzania -with a distinctly Canadian connection.......

As production volumes increase, maybe some export grade avocados will make their way on to the shelves of Canadian supermarkets, as Canadian cast-offs and unsold clothes reach Tanzanian open-air markets, spread out on the ground. It's a nice thought, made all the better for its plausibility.

Agriculture, Canada-style

I'm on holiday in Canada, southern Ontario to be precise. I took this photograph of a Syngenta seed variety demonstration plot just outside a small town called Mitchell on Highway 8 from Goderich to Stratford. This is farming country: field after field of corn, interspersed with other cereal and legume crops, on a large scale. Hybrid crops, mechanically planted, uniform spacing, well-fertilised soil and, every 5 km or so, massive grain silos to store the 100-day harvest. It is a picture of efficiency and orderliness.

The contrast with smallholder African agriculture could not be greater. Fragmented plots of land, no mechanisation, haphazard intercropping, home-saved seed and minimal use of other farming inputs.... These are just some of the challenges of creating a green revolution in Africa.

Whether we like or not, farming is a high-input high-output business. Maybe there's room for low-input farming for niche markets serving the chattering classes in wealthy countries. Certainly there is no shortage of organically-certified expensive food products in towns like Stratford (Ontario), home to an internationally-renowned summer theatre festival and also, incongruously, to the Ontario Pork Congress (for further details of this remarkable event, see But on a large scale? Impossible.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My A to Z

So, that's it. My African A to Z is complete. For anyone interested, here's the full list.

A Alphabet
B Banana
C Cellphone
D Detoothing
E Egg
F Football
G Gold
H Hair
I Investment
J Jam
K Khartoum
L Language
M Missionary
N Njombe
O Omondi
P Pantomime
Q Quack
R Rubber
S Seed
T Tusker
U Umbrella
V Victoria
W Wilderness
X Xeryus
Y Yamoussoukro
Z Zimbabwe

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I have written very little about Zimbabwe, despite having spent the best part of four years living in Harare from 2000-2004. On the whole, it was not a happy time for me. Professionally, it was a time of great stress, and it was also during my stay in Zimbabwe that I realised that I had been and was suffering from a chronic health problem. But my problems were minor in comparison to the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans, for whom it was, and still is, a time of disaster.

Zimbabwe has a sad history, dating from the colonial land grab to the disaster of UDI and the long, brutal and bloody bush war, before the brief optimism of independence and majority rule unravelled in hatred, enmity and, latterly, corruption on a grand scale. The economic collapse over the last decade, accompanied by the inevitable deterioration in generally accepted measures of human development - life expectancy, education, health and welfare - is tragic.

Recently, I made a very brief visit to Zimbabwe, in transit to Western Mozambique. Perhaps not surprisingly, given its economic position, it was apparently unchanged. The best barometer, after all, of economic growth and development is new construction. From the wealthy suburbs of Harare, through Ruwa, Marondera, Rusape and Mutare to the border, the road surface still excellent, the grasslands unaltered, the buildings the same....... A country frozen in time, somewhere in the late 1980s, with its old-fashioned courtesy and air of quiet despair.
Back at the beginning of the decade, "it can't get any worse" was a familiar refrain from older white Zimbabweans, their faces prematurely lined from the dry air and hot sun of the Southern African climate. Sadly, the truth is that it can and always will get worse, until enough people decide that it is time to take responsibility. And that is Zimbabwe's history. Only Zimbabweans can ensure that it is not the future.
But Zimbabwe is not representative of wider Africa. Elsewhere, the winds of change are blowing, in politics, in the media, in business and in the unstoppable forces of youth and technology. In this at least, Bob Dylan’s finest lyrics from "The times they are a-changing" could have been written for Africa.

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
Don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly agein’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
Oh the times, they are a-changin”

The Zeitgeist is for change, even for Zimbabwe.