Message to my countryman

The African Rhino. It is on the brink of extinction due to poaching activities.

“by the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,

Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion….”

That’s the Boney M 1978 Disco cover version of “Rivers of Babylon”, a song originally done by reggae band The Melodians. Long live the 70s. Musicians compose songs about various themes, this one was about home and country. True patriots are proud of their country and i am proud to be Ugandan. I carry my flag high. We must develop an abiding love for our motherland, Uganda, Pearl of Africa. I say home is where the hearth is. Hence with a love for home in our hearts, we will be able to develop in other ways which will be good for ourselves and for posterity. Recently, we were hailed as the number one tourist destination in the world. Does that mean something? Depends on how you look at it. For me, i believe we should exploit this opportunity and expand services geared to catering for tourists. Then we can reap the benefits in form of revenue.

Exotic plants and animals have been around since the time of the floods, Elephants and rhinos as well, but they had never faced the threat of extinction like they do now; mostly from poaching activities induced by an international, increasingly unsustainable demand for exotic flora and fauna. Most tourists come to Africa to view these beautiful and majestic creatures. From gate collections, hotel accommodations, food and travel-all this we benefit from as a tourist destination. Therefore we should take care of our interests and device ways to shield this burgeoning tourism industry from the destructive effects of poaching. There are fears that the growing popularity of Rhinoceros horn in China and elsewhere will lead to widespread indiscriminate killing of the animals by poachers working with groups of local criminals that are harvesting the horns. The market value of these horns has been said to be as high as $50,000 per kilo, with even higher offers being made depending on  buyer location. There is a need to check the flow of in-coming traffic at immigration points to prevent the entry of criminals trying to get in on the action. We must not forget the history of organized crime and its trans-national character. Criminals masquerading as visitors come here and set up shop and the next thing you know you got a network of buyers and sellers. Beware, gold will seduce a saint.

Much has been made of our evolutionary journey from ape to homo sapiens but it seems to me our brains have not evolved in good time to survey the changing world around us. Some communities are beginning to encroach on land reserved for animals. The animals need their freedom the same way we do that is why sometimes they will come into man’s territory leading to conflict. After we began settled life and increased our need for space, we pushed the animals into parks and reserves and continue to confine them there. With the onset of tourism, we built lodges and resorts and offered other conveniences all centered around the animals as the principle objects of attraction. In the course of our activities, we disturb the animals’ peace. We disrupt their feeding and breeding habits. We film their grooming and mating rituals, claiming that it is important for our own understanding of life. Sometimes the animals need their solitude. In most of the pictures taken of chimpanzees and other apes, there is, to me the same classic look they give every cameraman, a look that suggests to me what seems to be on their mind, a look meant to say; “can’t you pesky humans leave us alone?” Before we can take our walk with giants, we have so much work left to do. We should indeed leave the animals alone. We have no business trailing them, observing them, scheming to kill them or have them killed, chasing after them with powerful guns. What is the definition of terror? We claim to be sophisticated and urbane but we still have primitive instincts embedded in us. Greed, fear, avarice. These base instincts are what people exploit. They see it in you and they encourage it.

What we should do about the demand for Rhinoceros horn is to establish a breeding program for Rhinoceros the way other countries breed llamas, or ostriches. All we have to do is build the facilities for this program and provide manpower resources-animal biologists, veterinarians, wildlife specialists etc. Whatever help they need to operate should be availed. After the project has taken off, we can put it under wildlife management where we then continue to monitor it. Then after that, we go into legal business with those interested in horns. Income accruing from such an enterprise can then be used to sustain and expand the program. That way, we remove the savage poacher from the equation. The benefits will come through job creation and better management of our resources. It’s just a hunch.

“If i could do it again?”

A Herd boy. Notice the loose earth. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

I come from farming stock but i am not a farmer, not yet, but i know someday am going to venture into it. My late grandfather went into farming after being discharged from the army at the end of ww2. He had a good hand at it and succeeded quite well, receiving certificates of recognition for it. He used the income to build a two-storey house and went on to marry several wives. He put more land under farming and enlarged his acreage and reaped great profits out of the venture. He used his profits to buy a truck with which he ferried his produce to the market. He did quite well, so much in fact that he was able to construct a church and help build a school named in his honor. He sired over 40 kids. He stayed a farmer for the rest of his life. That was a long time ago. Today’s farmers are dealing with extreme weather. In the best of times, farming is not for the faint of heart. It is at best, grim business and i don’t mean to be scary but let’s face it how many people do you know who will drop seeds in the ground, wait for them to sprout and come back several times to weed, spray, spray again, then wait for the harvest? That is the normal cycle of things if you are lucky and there is no drought or too much precipitation. Farming revolves around being in sync with the seasons, planting early, if the farmer misses his cue, the season is lost. Farming is a waiting game. The farmer knows it and the farmer must be patient. There are crops such as coffee which won’t be ready until a couple of years after planting. It is risky, long-term back-breaking business being a farmer. There is also no guarantee that one will realize profits, there are people who will be waiting to cheat you, give you bad prices. Sometimes the quality is poor and so you are forced to sell just to break even. Not all are cut out to be farmers. Successful farmers are hard, resilient men.

Farmers are the world’s native businessmen, all other enterprises are secondary to farming (and that is my opinion). Let me explain it this way: if  i am a cattle breeder and i also have my own abattoir, that means that i slaughter the cattle, and do the skinning and treatment of the hides. If i decide to deal with the by-products of meat slaughter, the hides, i may choose to employ people who know all about curing and tanning or i may decide to strictly deal with slaughter and give the hides business to a specialist in the field. It depends on me if i want to do all that work and get my profits. I may simply sell the meat and dispose of the hides as i see fit. So there is all this work that is associated with the meat industry, it is a chain which begins with me as the stock breeder and carries forward to the consumer. There are many steps in-between and many skills to be put to use. There are thousands of people employed in the shoe industry, belts, upholstery, wallets, furniture industry, clothing industry you name it. What this amounts to is that i make it possible for these jobs to continue existing if i choose to stay in business. That is a good thing don’t you think? Alright, now when you think of it that way, it becomes easier to understand why i say that the farmer is the native businessman. It then becomes necessary to inquire why the farmer’s welfare is not a priority to governments in poorly-developed parts of the world.

Many people in the developing world depend on farming, in my own country of Uganda, the figure is 80%. There are however, distinctions in this business. In that percentage, a big number is engaged in small-scale, peasant or primitive production, which means that there is underutilization of land. Why do i say this? I say this because with primitive labor a farmer can only produce so much. With a tractor, the same piece of land he works in a month can be worked in a fraction of a day. But being a small-scale farmer one cannot justify renting it. Also, such a farmer has no access to credit. He also has no insurance against crop failure. Therefore when a drought occurs, he can neither feed his family nor pay his debts. Now with the change in weather patterns, it is predicted that such events will occur with greater frequency. When i look at where we are going and with the uncertainties that the future holds, the only solution remaining for small-scale farmers is to join co-operative societies whereby they have access to legal advice, loans, markets and other forms of help. In times past, we used to have them and of late some of them have been revived. These are the kinds of efforts we need to make in order to ensure food security as the world prepares to face more adverse weather.