But for many others, especially the participants and their home communities, having access to locally produced food can mean the difference between having enough food and going hungry. If there is no local source of food, communities must rely on imports, which are often prohibitively expensive. One of my high school friends, Jess, is currently studying and traveling in Africa under a Watson Fellowship - she wrote the following about her experiences at food markets in Liberia and Rwanda:
"This afternoon, I went to Nyabugogo market to pick up some fresh vegetables, and I suddenly understood in a very concrete way why farming matters in developing countries. Here in Rwanda – land of terraced hills and industrious yeoman farmers — I paid 350 Rwf (around 60 cents) for a kilo of tomatoes. In Liberia – land of rubber plantations and untouched forest – a pound of tomatoes costs 150 LD (about $2.15). Given the pound-kilo conversion, this means that Liberian tomatoes are roughly eight times the price of their Rwandan counterparts. In other words, tomatoes sold from wheelbarrows in the streets of Liberia — a country where 95% of the population lives on less than $2 a day – cost more than tomatoes in my local Safeway back home."Due to the recent civil war and various other economic and political crises, Liberia has a very weak agricultural sector, which is mostly oriented towards export of a few cash crops rather than towards domestic consumption. The result: expensive tomatoes. Again, as Jess wrote:
"Everything is imported. This was sort of true in Aceh [Indonesia], but Monrovia [Liberia] takes it to a completely different level. A quick inventory of the groceries I bought yesterday: tea from Sri Lanka (with labeling in Sinhala and, inexplicably, Russian), rice from the US (labeled in Arabic), lemonade from Cyprus, juice from South Africa, lentils from someplace Spanish-speaking, spices and Cream of Wheat from Lebanon, and jam from Belgium. (The fresh bread, bananas, and ginger were presumably from here in Liberia.) Unsurprisingly, my grocery bills are painfully high."Again and again, participants recount similar stories of one-crop, export-oriented farmers in their communities who can not afford to feed their own families because they must buy expensive, imported food. "How is it that farmers cannot even feed themselves?" So for me, eating local food is a way of reconnecting with the reality of natural food production - for much of the world, it's a means of survival.