J500 Media and the Environment

My Night as a Zambian by KaylaReg
February 12, 2010, 6:39 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4 | Tags: , , , ,

As part of an eighth grade class field trip, I spent a night at the Heifer Project International (HPI) Global Village in Arkansas. HPI works to teach people sustainable farming practices and management of natural resources in more than 55 countries around the world, including the U.S. This, in effect, gives them the power to actually be self-sufficient.

The global village staff divided us by lottery into groups representing a particular country or socioeconomic status HPI serves to help. Each group was given (or not given) a certain amount of resources reflecting what a typical person from that country or population has in real life. There were enough resources to feed everyone collectively, but no group was given enough to make it through the night on its own.

I’m reluctant to say my HPI experience is a perfect reflection of the real world market, but I can see some connection. The global economy commands the lowest price for the highest yield, and a country’s resources are only as good as its free market price. Without any organization or formal leadership, members from Zambia (the group I was in), Appalachia and Thailand, (I’ll call it ZAT) traded one item for another, jumping on whatever seemed like a good deal.

Taken from the USDA's Global Food Security Report. LAC= Latin America and Caribbean, CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States, SSA = Sub-Saharan Africa

Students from the Urban Ghetto and Refugee camp (lets call them both UR), the two groups without any resources, begged to start a fire or do dishes in exchange for anything to eat.  We traded all of our extra rice for oil and we needed matches and water to even consider labor costs.Then there was Guatemala, the only group with clean water rights and least willing to negotiate.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Security Assessment, between 2007 and 2009, food insecurity (consuming less than 2,100 calories per day per person) in developing countries increased by nearly 2 percent, reaching an estimated 833 million people. Food insecure countries, particularly those in Sub Sahara Africa and Asia, have been hardest hit by the global economic crisis as they’ve become more dependent on food-imports and foreign investment.

Eventually, everyone from ZAT and UR was too hungry to continue trying to dominating the global village market. We talked about what we had and what we needed and traded accordingly. Because we cooperated instead of competed, Guatemala couldn’t demand a ridiculous amount of labor or resources for half a cup of water and everyone, regardless of global village status, got a good meal.

Agriculture giant Monsanto claims what the struggling African farmers really need is its patented drought resistant seed, offered liberty free. It’s “sustainable agriculture,” its website states, “and that’s what Monsanto seeds are all about.”

Really? I thought Monsanto seeds were about profit.

I don’t want to end on a cheesy note, but just like in the global village, no country can get by completely on its own. Collectively though, there’s certainly enough for everyone.  To me, finding that balance is really what sustainability is all about.

-Kayla Regan


4 Comments so far
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There is an eco-village in Missouri that I am dying to visit. It is called Dancing Rabbit (www.dancingrabbit.org). I am curious, after your experience at HPI, do you think there is a solution that can help everyone out? Or do you think it isn’t possible? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I think balance central to what sustainability is, but also just as problematic. Accounting for the relativity of balance, I wonder if anything useful could come from spelling out an exact kind of balance for the purposes of sustainability (or if it’s even possible).

Comment by Ruby

The HPI experience you described seems like something ordinary citizens could benefit from. It sounds like the experience taught you to be more aware of how you interact with the environment. Do you feel like you still use some of the things you learned from your experience today?

-Tess H.

Comment by tesshedrick

Kristina and Tess – I definitely think HPI is something that can help everyone understand how sustainability affects the world, as well as every day life. After we spent the night we also participated in a day long educational program where we learned to milk goats, make cheese, and build bricks out of renewable resources. They didn’t mention “fair trade” to a bunch of 8th graders, but it was certainly implied and absorbed. I went back in high school as a mentor and it was amazing to see the things again from a different, somewhat more mature, lens. Institutions from schools to businesses to just groups of friends can sign up for it, and I would definitely suggest looking into HPI.
As for the relativity of balance and sustainability, I definitely agree. It is problematic, and something I need to think about a lot more. Currently, I guess I just don’t have the knowledge to come out and say “WE HAVE TO HAVE FAIR TRADE AND BUY LOCAL RIGHT NOW!”, especially as I myself don’t buy strictly fair trade or local items. I know no one is asking me about what reforms should be made to the global market, and while I do think it is crucial and urgent, I expect that any progress will start with understanding at the individual level, not by condemning “the man.” Hopefully, as I gain a better understanding of sustainability, I’ll be able to address this problem of balance a little more.
Kayla R

Comment by KaylaReg

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