One farmer said a farm has to count on a 10 to 20 per cent loss from theft. It’s not just the large farmers who get stolen from either. Every small-scale farmer fears losing a part of his crop to his neighbours or even to his family members.
I was in London, England when I heard the news about H1N1 influenza being found on an Alberta hog farm. It was also on the news when we arrived in Switzerland. And I’m sure it made the news in Zambia, too. Who is happy to be a Canadian farmer, especially a Canadian hog farmer, anymore? Well, after spending three months this year among Zambian farmers in Africa, I came up with 10 good reasons to be thankful you are farming in Canada.
1. That tough Canadian winter we all complain about (especially this last one) has its good sides. It kills a lot of bugs and diseases! You don’t expect to meet a cobra in the grass. You don’t get malaria, or worry too much about other parasites.
A large grain farmer in the Mkushi area of Zambia told us his biggest problems are disease and fungus. The long rainy season beginning in November and ending in April is very humid and warm. A lot of things grow in that atmosphere — and not just the crops.
2. Your interest on debt isn’t 20 to 30 per cent as it is in Zambia. I was told that the interest rate for borrowing on the Zambian Kwacha wasn’t really that high when taking into account inflation rates of 16 per cent. Few smaller farmers in Zambia can use debt to grow their farms. Most large farmers make their loans in U. S. dollars, but even then, borrowing rates are still 12 per cent. That’s pretty crippling.
Not only are the interest rates high, but the repayment time is short — usually not more than five years, even for land. We met one young farmer who was chased out of Zimbabwe and has started fresh in Zambia. He asked the bank for his own office — he was working for them, after all! Farming in Zambia is high risk for him, but he had nothing to start with, so he can’t lose much.
3. Canadian farmers don’t have to set up a guard station at every corner of their fields. Theft in Zambia is so rampant that it has its own line on the expense list of the Government tax returns. Eugene Meintjes, a dairy farmer, says “around every farm there’s a group of people that live off that farm.” Whether it is corn, beans, cows or chickens, production will get stolen. Even with strong vigilance, there will be losses. One farmer said a farm has to count on a 10 to 20 per cent loss from theft. It’s not just the large farmers who get stolen from either. Every small-scale farmer fears losing a part of his crop to his neighbours or even to his family members.
4. You have political stability, more or less. Meintjes told us, “In Africa you are never sure. You can have a nice government like we have here for 30 years, and then get a wrong one and everything changes.” Zambia actually is much more stable politically than its neighbours, especially Zimbabwe and the Congo. But government policies change continually.
Government in Canada has at least some money for agriculture. You don’t have to pay your district agriculturalist’s phone bill so they can call you. And you don’t have to pick them up in your truck and buy them lunch. The DA’s in Kitwe are supposed to spend three days in the field, but have no money and no transportation to do so. They only get out if someone pays them to come to their farm. Small farmers can’t afford that. Both the farmers and the agriculturalists lose.
5. Your best employees don’t die of AIDS, leaving you with their dependants to care for. Minnie and George Woodley operate Fringilla Farms along with a guesthouse. They have about 80 employees. They estimate that about 1,000 people eat off of Fringilla Farms. Several of their key employees are dying of AIDS. When the head of a family dies, the employer is left to provide healthcare and education for the many dependants. A large commercial farmer might have a whole village depending on him for their upkeep. That is a responsibility some of them would love to shake.
7. In Canada, if you order something, you’ll probably get it. If you pay for something, you expect to get it, or get your money back. Businesses are more or less reliable.
6. You don’t have to pay funeral expenses for your employees. You don’t have to pay their medical bills, or send their kids to school, or pay for the mother-in-law’s operation. One reason for this situation in Zambia is the very low wages. Most farm workers earn about Can$3 to $4 per day. But the employer is expected to supply lunch, and the above. It takes time to adjust to business life in Zambia. A business that really delivers what it advertises is rare. You have to go back again and again to get what you really want. The frustration level can be very high.
8. Your roads are pretty decent. In case you dare to differ, you haven’t driven the Zambian side roads! Here’s a joke a taxi driver told me: How can you tell a drunk driver in Zambia? He drives straight down the road. (Everyone else weaves around avoiding the potholes everywhere.) The terrible side roads take a big toll on both cars and trucks.
9. Your power supply is reliable. Last year, when the mines were going full out and power outages were common, farmers were spending more for diesel for their generators than for power bills. Farmers were cutting back their irrigated acreages because pumps were off so much.
10. You don’t have to send your kids to boarding school so they can get a decent education. There are few really good schools in rural areas. Almost all Zambians who can afford it, send their children to private boarding school at least for high school. Many white children are sent to England or South Africa. I have come to regard highly the value of a good public education.
There’s more, but you get the gist. Life in Canada is pretty good, even on the farm. Of course, as Eugene said after a trip to the U. S. last summer, you also have to do all the work yourself! Take your pick!
P. S. If you’re Zambian, please forgive me! Your country is beautiful and I love it. But I just had to remind Canadian farmers that they have some good things going for them.
Marianne Stamm lives on a farm near Westlock, Alta.