Zambian elections worry farmers

August 22, 2011:  It’s hot in Switzerland. So hot that even this water shy girl joined her friends at the outdoor pool in Schleitheim yesterday. “Finally it’s summer!” everyone here is saying. It feels just like Zambia to me. So it seemed only natural to take President Banda of Zambia with me to the pool.

Chitenges such as this are often given as gifts by presidential candidates. They don't usually air out in Swiss villages though!

Chitenges such as this are often given as gifts by presidential candidates. They don't usually air out in Swiss villages though!

     Just before I left Zambia, my nurse friend Margaret gave me her newest chitenge (wrap skirt fabric) to remember her by. The print is a huge picture of President Banda, in blue. This is an election year. The print was certainly made with that in mind, and probably given free as propaganda material. President Banda should be flattered, to know that his picture is being laid out in Switzerland at the poolside!

     Elections have now been called, for September 20th. The USA has issued an alert for tourists planning to travel the country before, during, and just after the election. Zambians are protesting – they’ve always been a peaceful country. But there have been some outburst of riots here and there already. Some of our friends were worried this election could be ‘hot’, while others were certain Zambians will remain peaceful, like they always have been. We’ll see.

     Small farmers have their own reasons to be concerned. Many have sold their maize to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) – the government maize agency, but not all have been paid. The government kept the price up artificially high; some say to keep voters on their side. There has been a surplus of maize for two years now. The domestic market is too small to handle all that, and export markets are not lucrative. Zambia tends to produce more expensively than its neighbouring countries, partly due to the fact that it is land locked and transport costs are higher.

     Farmers are worried they won’t be paid before the election, and who knows what will happen after. Is there even enough money in the coffers to pay farmers what they’ve already delivered? Here an excerpt from the Zambian Post online from August 17th to that topic: “North Western Province FRA regional marketing coordinator Sunday Mwelwa said his office had so far received K7.86 billion of the projected K28 billion for the purchase of the 438,000 (delivered) bags.” That’s only one quarter of the money needed, and more bags to come.

     I worry then about our farmers, the ones we work with. It’s one thing to read such stories in the news. It’s another when the stories have faces and names to them. I know those faces will suffer if they don’t get paid. Where will they get money for other food (especially if they sold maize to pay bills, that they should have for food)? Or for school fees, or for medicine? Or to repay loans?

     Farmers are suffering here in Schleitheim, Switzerland too. And Robert told me that our neighbouring Canadian community was wiped out with hail recently. But I’m not worried any of those people will go hungry. My Zambian friends may. That’s sobering. And no matter who gets in as president, that isn’t going to change.



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