Top of Mind: Are You Satisfied?

January 8, 2013 08:53 PM
Top of Mind: Are You Satisfied?

There is something so earthly, yet so sacred about sharing a meal. During a two-week tour of Kenya farms and cooperatives with the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, I shared meals with farmers, diplomats, elderly women, tribal chiefs and small children.

After an evening meal of ugali (a white starchy paste made of maize flour), sikuma (similar to a collard green) and beans, a mother asked her children: "Are you satisfied?" They nodded their heads. She asked again: "Are you sure you are satisfied?" Again, they nodded. She then brought out a box of cheese crackers, granola bars and Fruit Roll-Ups—gifts from an American church. Their faces lit up with delight. They ate their food slowly and methodically, taking great effort to hold, smell and savor their treats.

By the light of a kerosene lantern, I watched them eat. Sitting beside me, the mother said: "We only ask children if they are satisfied for the night. We don’t ever ask if they are full. African children can never be full."

I returned home unsatisfied myself. I’m unsatisfied that a country with such incredible natural resources still faces corruption and lack of market transparency stifles progress. Africa is a continent of extremes—beauty, poverty and potential. Read more about Kenya’s potential on page 14.

Women Love Farming. In Africa, women constitute the majority of food producers, processors and marketers. I wish African farmers could meet the 200 women who attended our Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) conference last month. It was an impressive group of business-minded women, representing 25 states, devoted to the future of farming. Starting on page 10, we have plenty of management tips and market advice from EWA that applies to farmers regardless of gender.

Serious about the business of production agriculture, more than 65% of attendees consider themselves the farm’s key decision maker, nearly 50% are farm owners or principaloperators, and  68% are the primary record keeper. These women not only hold the business’ purse, but often have the final financial say in farm decisions.

Many women I met at EWA travel globally for business, including to underdeveloped countries. Many come home as I did: unsatisfied and frustrated. Alabama farm owner Larkin Martin, who spoke at EWA, had just returned from study in Kenya as an Eisenhower Fellow. She recognizes the challenges ahead, but believes more agricultural progress has been made in the last decade than in the last century. That’s a good sign.

Is she satisfied? No, but Martin is a bit humbler these days. She notes: "Despite all of the challenges and risks we face as American producers, there is no better place to farm."

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