• June 2nd, 2020

The land as the tortured, under-siege guardian

I suggested last week that optimal land use requires a singleness of purpose, the proverbial “pulling in the same direction.” When stakeholders do not sing from the same hymnbook, they place the land under unremitting hardship.

 The Aborigines say, “country is loved, needed, and cared for; and country loves, needs and cares for her people. Country is family, culture, and identity. Country is self.”

In Conservation and Local Economy, author Wendell Berry says that, “land will be ruined unless it is properly cared for. People are motivated to care for land to the extent that their interest in it is direct, dependable and permanent. In other words, there must be a mutuality of belonging: they must feel that the land belongs to them, that they belong to it, and that this belonging is a settled and unthreatened fact.”

   Civil servants took quite some flak at the height of Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reforms. The attorney general’s office, for example, complained that it was not receiving adequate information or reasons for acquiring identified farms. As a result, the programme met frequent legal challenges. Another key department pointed to transport hiccups. Elsewhere, others ignored the command to settle people only on acquired land.

Yet this was a national undertaking to empower the previously marginalized. The sense of collective pervaded messages that were sent out. I received one such on the eve of what was called “the mother of all mechanization launches.”

  “Total arrivals - Manicaland 21 chiefs and 250 councillors, headmen; Mashonaland Central 15 and 240; Mashonaland East 18 and 236; Mashonaland West 15 and 237; Masvingo 17 and 170; Matabeleland North 10 and 238; Matabeleland South 8 and 90; Midlands 27 and 100. Expecting another 1800 by way of MPs, Senators, captains of industry and commerce, war veterans, widows of our national heroes, MDC MPs expected. Good to acknowledge them; diplomats too, so they see we are serious about empowering our people from the grassroots to the top.”

There is a hint here of the land’s recuperative elements. Accordingly, the Aborigines say, “maintaining a connection with the land is vital to pass on important stories to younger generations.”

   It is against this background that Aboriginal elder Tom Dystra decries the fact that, “while we endeavoured to live with the land, the white man seemed to live off it.” Could this explain the sheer gluttony and rapacity exhibited by colonial farm sizes? After all, conservationists observe that “the quality of attention decreases as hectarage increases.”

In 1992, some white farmers in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province tried to hold a private meeting with then vice president Simon Muzenda. There  was, however, a (contrived) leak, and we consequently arrived with television cameras.

   The burning issue was a combined debt of Z$394 000 (then) which the farmers were struggling to pay back. Before the day was over, the host farmer unveiled (or unleashed) brand new, state-of-the-art combine harvesters. He followed the cameraman who was trying to capture the vast expanse of land. The farmer remarked that, “you can get a better sense of the land from the air; fortunately my pilot is here from South Africa, and he can take you up.” It was a kind offer. But the cameraman had a debilitating fear of single-engine planes!

This is not the only fear the world has witnessed. In April 2007, a leading voice on agriculture made the following comment: “Let us deal with agricultural mechanization as a springboard to higher productivity; assure people of food availability, supplement with imports in the face of the drought; whole of southern Africa affected by drought.” In 2019, the spectre of the predatory drought again sits on most parts of the continent like a colossus. 

   The world is afraid of drought’s ghastly figure, of the scorched earth it leaves behind. Not surprisingly, the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly will host a Climate Action Summit. Further, the world body has proclaimed a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 to 2030. Perhaps, we can still retrace our footsteps to acknowledging that “nature is the best farmer.”

But this can only happen if the world hears European council president Donald Tusk’s cry: “The last years have shown that it is increasingly difficult for all of us to find common language when the world needs our cooperation more, not less.” In June, Elizabeth Kendon of the United Kingdom’s Met Office noted that “climate change and droughts in El Nino years...are placing energy and water infrastructure under severe stress.”

   American president Donald Trump recently expressed an interest in Greenland. One expert cautioned against “a rapidly developing yet neglected crisis.” Reports say Greenland has 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, 30 percent of natural gas reserves, and huge deposits of minerals like zinc, iron and rare earth metals.

What does one say in the end? To paraphrase Wendell Berry’s essay, the Joy of Sales Resistance, our communities should without fear, favour or prejudice, declare in unison that, “it matters what happens to farmers, it matters what happens to the land, and agriculture has everything to do with the environment.”  

Staff Reporter
2019-08-30 08:19:52 | 9 months ago

Be the first to post a comment...